Be careful what you wish for. The Food and Drug Administration’s two-decade struggle to assert jurisdiction over tobacco products ended in June 2009 when Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Now the FDA is stuck with figuring out how to regulate a product that, were its widespread use not traceable to the pre-Columbian era, and were it not embedded in American culture and commerce ever since, the government would surely ban (tobacco being much more dangerous than many of the drugs the FDA won’t allow to be sold).
The 2009 law requires cigarette packs to carry larger warning labels featuring nine blunt new warnings (“Smoking can kill you,” “Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers,” etc.) and illustrations featuring color graphics. On Nov. 12 the FDA published a proposed regulation on how to make it happen. The agency is soliciting public comment on 72 predictably lurid graphics it’s cooked up to comply with the 2009 law, and it’s inviting citizens to recommend which nine would best do the job.
Anti-smoking propaganda has been shown to have some positive effect in getting people to quit and (especially) preventing people from taking up this self-destructive habit in the first place. One study found that every dollar spent on anti-smoking ads reduced sales, on a per capita basis, by 7.7 packs. But different campaigns have enjoyed different levels of success, and some have failed to produce any measureable effect whatsoever. Humor, I am sorry to report, has been found to be far less effective than ads that invoke “strong negative emotion” (i.e., ads that scare or disgust you).
I refuse to accept, however, that the job can’t be done with a bit more flair. Blunt is good, but trenchant would be better. Granting that the kind of humor that inspires giggles probably won’t do the trick, what about humor that inspires gasps? Perhaps all that’s needed is less Jay Leno and more Michael O’Donoghue.
In that spirit, I invite Slate readers to submit mordantly funny or otherwise thought-provoking color graphics to accompany the nine new warning labels. The graphics should be more imaginative than what the FDA proposed, but not so imaginative that I can’t publish them in this edgy-but-still-relatively-mainstream magazine. (Remember, too, that a key target audience is young people.) I will publish the best submissions in a follow-up slide show. Please submit your entry as a JPEG e-mail attachment (only one graphic per entrant, please!). Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org under the subject heading “Tobacco Contest.” No entries will be accepted after 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Oh, and you must choose which warning to illustrate from the following list. (No illustrations accompanying different, nonstatutory warnings will be considered.):
Warning: Cigarettes are addictive.
Warning: Tobacco smoke can harm your children.
Warning: Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease.
Warning: Cigarettes cause cancer.
Warning: Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease.
Warning: Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby.
Warning: Smoking can kill you.
Warning: Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers.
Warning: Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risk to your health.
May the best graphic artists win.