FDA's Graphic Problem

Are proposed warning labels really going to curb tobacco consumption?

Published in CSP Daily News

By
Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- It's reminiscent of a Halloween beauty contest where vulgar wins.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) last week unveiled three-dozen gruesome graphic warnings on cigarette packs, with plans to narrow the field to nine of the most morbid, offensive visuals you can show your children every time you shop at your local convenience store.

Click herefor links to view all of the [image-nocss] proposed FDA cigarette pack warning labels.

Is this really what the FDA wants? Is this really going to curb tobacco consumption?

Truly, the FDA wants to educate the oblivious millions of American smokers who have no idea that smoking is bad for your health. But don't we already know that?

Don't we already have the Surgeon General's Warning that speaks unspeakable truths on every pack of cigars, cigarettes and moist smokeless? Aren't tobacco products virtually unreachable, now positioned behind the checkout counter on the back bar? Don't we already have age and marketing restrictions aimed at curbing minors from purchasing all tobacco products?

Fifty million adults and youths smoke, despite the scores of ever-increasing restrictions, from public smoking bans to private companies consciously not hiring known smokers. And while the number of U.S. smokers continues to decline, the pace has noticeably slowed.

Perhaps, we as a nation have hit a saturation point. Survey after survey shows that it's not a lack of knowledge that propels smokers to ingest carcinogens. Numerous variables, from economics to demographics to attitudes, contribute to what makes up today's smoker.

Leaving aside constitutional concerns about this latest FDA effort, my fear is that this graphic attack is going to yield serious unintended consequences and result in a major casualty--you!
Attacking tobacco sales via vulgar images may simply shift customers from buying tobacco at stores to ordering online, denting little the number of actual smokers.

Conversely, nonsmokers, like myself, repulsed by the harsh packaging, will think twice about bringing our children into your stores to buy a beverage, sandwich or snack.

Put simply, FDA's proposal may do little to curb smoking, while inadvertently knifing into sales across all in-store categories as customers opt to shop elsewhere to avoid the visual nightmares.Here's my other fear--graphic packs may work contrary to FDA hopes and actually increase tobacco sales. For today's millennials, the visuals are so riveting in this chill-a-thrill, fear-is-fun era that folks will actually begin collecting cigarette packs like trading cards.

I can imagine the Saturday carton trading show: "Hey, I'll trade you the cancerous corpse for the fatal fetal pack? Want the hacking dude for the Freddy Krueger lookalike? Hmm, need to think about that one."

And not only might smokers buy more to collect their favorite graphic, but the cleverest of operators and suppliers may iPodisize their smokes by rolling out colorful sleeves for cigarette and cigar packs: "Yes, collect your favorite smoke skins--bodacious blue, forest green, tornado tope; and don't you worry, you ladies. We've got you covered too--what about perfume pink and sultry salmon skins? Can't buy Misty without a 59-cent sleeve now, can you?"

I'm for sensible regulations--require ingredient listings, push product to the back bar, inform customers on exactly what they're inhaling.

But at the same time, if the FDA wants to be a respect, relevant regulator, it must avoid the hyperbole and patronizing approach it is now pursuing.

Don't hurt the retailer, don't insult the customer. Scare tactics rarely work, and certainly not long-term. This is a program for A Nightmare on Elm Street, not for your local convenience store.

( Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage.)

Agree? Disagree? Please email your thoughts to Mitch Morrison, CSP vice president and group editor, at mmorrison@cspnet.com and let us know if we can run it in CSP Daily News.

By Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor
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