To stop smoking, make smokers look silly

The Takeaway

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

The Food and Drug Administration recently unveiled new regulations that mandate graphic images on packs of cigarettes. The new, proposed images feature dead bodies, a woman blowing smoke at her child and other horrific images, and take up half of the surface area of the package. The idea is to shock people into not smoking.

“I doubt very much that these images are going to be effective,” says Cindy Gallop, an advertising consultant and former chairman of the ad agency BBH. She told The Takeaway that many people make the mistake of thinking that humans are rational. “The fact is that the human brain has the most wonderful capacity to ignore, block out, or simply not see anything it doesn’t want to see.”

The first time a person sees the image, it may evoke an emotional response. But Gallop points out that “even the most shocking gets familiar very very quickly.” Cigarette companies would have to continually change the image to keep up an emotional response.

Even then, if a person has already made the decision to smoke, Gallop says it’s unlikely that the images would be able to stop that.

“I would actually recommend a very different, and much more emotional approach,” Gallop told The Takeaway. Instead of horrifying smokers, Gallop suggests that the FDA embarrass them into quitting. She says, “I actually think that embarrassment is a far more powerful force than shock, fear, and horror.”

One of the new FDA-proposed images features a woman standing in the rain with a newspaper over her head smoking. “That woman looks silly,” according to Gallop. The FDA should go in that direction, showing the absurdity of smoking, even when people know it’s bad for them. Gallop says, “I think that could be a much more powerful societal force than the rational approach of ‘this is what’s going to happen to you.'”

You can see the new warning labels below:

New cigarette warning labels

“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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