You’ve Been Warned: Is Graphic the Way to Go?

Should graphic warning labels accompany fatty, processed foods just like packs of cigarettes?

Warning to Smokers: Labels are Getting Tough

In case you haven’t heard, cigarettes are bad for you. Really, really bad.

And soon, if you want to buy a pack, you’ll hear the warning loud and clear. You’re going to be staring at the long-term effects of smoking: from images of smoke pouring through a tracheotomy to dead bodies.

An example of the new cigarette warning labels. An example of the new cigarette warning labels.

These are examples of new, graphic warning labels that will be required on all cigarette packs sold in the U.S. as part of legislation starting in 2012.

Australian legislators took it one step further when they recently passed a law regulating branding on cigarettes in an attempt to drive down smoking rates in their country. Australia already has graphic warning labels on their packs, but the new law would dedicate more than 80 percent of the pack to the labels.

For years, the U.S. Surgeon General has warned American consumers of the dangers of many things, including tobacco and alcohol. These were normally small and hidden far away from the brand name.

Soon, the warning labels will be right in front of every smoker every time they want to light up. The scare tactic might work on some people, but some current smokers might need more than another warning of death.

Still, smoking is in decline in the U.S. Now less than 20 percent of the population smokes—the lowest it’s been since the 1960s. 

Warnings to Eaters?

In the U.S., health hasn’t been a priority among many people for very long. Getting adequate healthcare for all of its citizens is actually something for political debate. Most insurance policies cover few preventative measures and often reject needed procedures outright. It got so out of hand, there had to be major—and heatedly debated—legislation to fix a few of the problems.

But when it comes to passing laws, cigarettes are the easy way out if you want to look like you’ve got your agenda set on a healthier nation. It’s easy to warn of the dangers of cigarettes, but few legislators are brave enough to take on the food manufacturers, alcohol distillers, wine makers, or most anything else that could have detrimental health effects.

Tobacco gets a lot of legislative attention, yet junk food rarely gets such graphic warnings. Recently, San Francisco banned the Happy Meal, and federal lawmakers approved funding for better nutrition to schools, but the food industry is given more freedom than the tobacco industry when it comes to promoting their products.

Maybe that’s why there are more fat people in America than there are smokers. 

Obesity is a major problem in America, affecting more than a third of the population over the age of 20, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity causes numerous health conditions, including (among others) asthma, heart disease, and depression.

Scaring Away Obesity?

There are nutrition warning labels on all packaged foods, yet they probably affect consumers no more than do the current U.S. Surgeon General’s warnings on cigarettes. 

It’s about time we take the graphic warning notion and direct it toward obesity.

There should be someone injecting insulin into themselves on a package of cookies.

There should be someone getting liposuction on a bag of potato chips.

There should be a picture of a man having a heart attack on every bucket of fried chicken.

Energy drinks should show a person convulsing on the floor.

After all, there are pictures of fit and toned people on packaging for fitness equipment, so why not show the effects of fatty, processed foods right on the labels? After all, cigarette companies can no longer advertise using cartoon characters, but cartoons are all you see on boxes of sugar-laden breakfast cereal.

The standards to which cigarette packaging is held to should be applied to all unhealthy products—not just tobacco. If health is a political issue, it should be given equal treatment under the law.

If lawmakers are set on preventing smokers from puffing away, they should also get serious about obesity by going after the food manufacturers and making them put the effects of an unhealthy diet on their packages.

Yes, smoking is bad for you, but there are larger giants out there that need slaying as well. 

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