In our fifth grade class, Bill had three things that made him seem cool. He belonged to the only farm family that still used horses instead of tractors; he once had ringworm, so he showed off the shaved spot with purplish blue medicine on his head; and he brought cigarettes to school.
Cousin Mike and I joined Bill at recess behind the baseball field backstop for a few hurried, sputtering drags, but my two-puff-a-day habit basically ended there. Oh sure—I grew up on a farm in the 60s so I tried rolling dried corn silk in paper, but with the touch of a match, it burned faster than a fuse in Coyote’s hand lit by Roadrunner. And some wayward Boy Scout brought a few cigars to Camp Mitigwa, but most of us were too dizzy to savor the experience. A combination of luck and ineptitude kept me from becoming a smoker.
This month, the Australian government adopted more graphic measures to discourage smoking by passing “the world’s toughest law on cigarette promotion.” The AP reports that the measure prohibits tobacco company logos on cigarette packs and instead shows cancer-riddled mouths, blinded eyeballs, and sickly children.
As you might expect, tobacco companies are gasping and wheezing about the law. They say it violates intellectual property, devalues their trademarks, and would benefit organized crime. “The illegal cigarette black market will grow further,” they contend.
Tobacco is not the only product facing labeling and packaging directives: Which products can be called “organic”? Which products can use the “probiotic” term? Should GMO foods be so designated? Trans fats labels and calorie counts are already with us. How about salt, sugar, and chocolate warnings?
Many would say cigarettes are in a different league—they certainly aren’t a food. Maybe tobacco companies should just go with the flow. While traveling in the 90s, I met an Englishman carrying a black cigarette packet with a skull and crossbones on the front and the prominent brand name “Death” in stark, white letters. “You’re smoking death,” I chided him. “Right,” he replied. “The company either has a brilliant flair for reverse psychology or an economically fatal dose of truth-in-advertising.”
Of course I hope fifth graders don’t smoke, but I’ll leave it to others to decide about labels and packaging. From what I’ve seen of the Aussie packets, they are visually disgusting. But considering what we were like in elementary school, the packet photos would probably have been yet another cool thing Bill had. “Hey look, a coughed-up lung. Neat!” by dan gogerty (cowboy photo from tobaccofreekids.org; cig. pack photo from media.boston.com)