New cigarette warnings? Please.

Graphic labels won’t deter young smokers, nor motivate those already addicted to quit

The cat was out of the bag over 50 years ago.

Despite a Marlboro on every lip and A Frank Statement proclaiming the safety of the product, people were beginning to catch on—inhaling tar and chemicals was bad for you.

It’s curious, then, especially as we approach 2011, why federal leaders believe it important to shock that reality back into us. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has unveiled a series of 16 new warning labels for cigarette packages that are bigger and more graphic than previous labels, just in case you haven’t been getting the message.

Aglukkaq hopes the new warnings, which cost almost $4 million to develop, will motivate existing smokers to kick the habit and deter new smokers from picking it up. The goal is to get people to “stop and think” before they light up, Aglukkaq said Thursday.

Surely those youths motivated by peer pressure, beer, or rebelliousness will suddenly resort to reason and thoughtfulness when confronted by the new labels, right? I can hear the gasps already: “You mean smoking is not good for me? Geez, well just pass me the mickey, then.” Trends show that kids are already less interested in picking up the pack than they were 10 years ago, so some are undoubtedly getting the message. Plus, since the old labels would be new to young people taking their first puffs anyhow, these revamped warning signs will be little more than expensive wrapping paper to the young target.

And the addicted smokers? They persist because they’re addicted, not because they don’t know cigarettes are bad for you. If some smokers are unable to quit despite the loss of a loved one, pressure from children, or a critical diagnosis, a few government-solicited images won’t magically do the trick, disturbing as they may be. The government’s money would be more effectively used to subsidize stop-smoking aids or resource centers for those hoping to quit. Yet this softball lob is just enough to quiet the anti-smoking lobby while not too seriously threatening the government’s haul of tobacco taxes.

The new cigarette warning labels may evoke some first-glance discomfort, but will likely fade into packaging after the first drag.

-Photo by Nerissa’s Ring