Teens Take Shine To Gory Images

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January 17, 2001

Teens Take Shine To Gory Images


Allan Rock's ears must be burning.

Rather than being frightened away from cigarette smoking by the gruesome new warning labels that began appearing on new packs this month, it appears some teenage nicotine fiends have begun collecting them.

This should come as no surprise. After all, teenage delight in gross and disgusting images is as old as teenhood itself, is it not?

Still, it may not be the reaction our federal minister of health was hoping for.

The graphic labels were just one of a series of dramatic initiatives launched by the ambitious Rock back in the days when it looked as though Jean Chretien might retire, sparking a Liberal leadership race.

Other attention-demanding moves by the health minister and former disciple to the late Beatle John Lennon were a failed billion-dollar lawsuit against U.S. tobacco companies and the hiring of a tobacco company whistle-blower who'd been the subject of a Hollywood movie as an, errrr, adviser.

The graphic labels depict images such as diseased lungs, rotting teeth and gums and a brain with blocked blood vessels.

One, using a droopy cigarette to depict impotence, has proven a favourite among teens in Edmonton and Winnipeg who've been collecting the labels, much to the annoyance of merchants asked to flip through a row of packages to come up with the ones in hot demand.

If some teens aren't upset by the labels, one anti-smoking group certainly is. The Canadian Council for Non-Smoking says the packs will turn visiting our friendly corner stores into a "disturbing, unpleasant experience."

Peter Fitzpatrick, the group's vice-president, said the labelling shows "a clear lack of understanding of our youth culture, or of the cigarette addiction."

Council president Frank Dwyer was less diplomatic He suggested that instead of using "unsophisticated, desperate" tactics, Rock should "tell everyone the truth abut the smoking issue."

Dwyer suggested an alternate warning: "Be advised that the Governments of Canada tacitly approve the sale of this addictive and dangerous product and realize a combined revenue of over $12 million a day. This product kills over 100 Canadian users per day."

Needless to say, we won't be seeing those words on packs of smokes anytime soon.

Other anti-smoking groups aren't as concerned about teens' cavalier attitudes to the labels. Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, said the collecting and interest in the new packaging means people are at least thinking about the risks of smoking.

While the pictures might prove amusing or embarrassing to smokers, it won't be long before they don't even notice them -- just as smokers came to ignore the written warnings that preceded them.

Still, this being the middle of National Non-Smoking Week, (today is "Weedless Wednesday" during which parents are urged not to smoke in front of their children) it is difficult not to concede that any tactic aimed at butting out this killer habit is worth a try.

The biggest problem with these explicit labels is that they are aimed at those who are already addicted.

In Alberta, 27% of those over age 15 smoke, a figure that's higher than the national average. And statistics show that of those aged 20 who smoke, more than half will die from the habit if they continue.

We're heartened by Alberta Health Minister Gary Mar's promise to come up with a comprehensive strategy to deal with smoking this year, and by a tough proposed new anti-smoking bylaw for Calgary.

What is more frustrating is the federal Liberal government's reluctance to take up legislation that could prevent untold numbers of children from becoming smokers and eventual casualties.

It's downright bizarre that this government has failed to embrace a private member's bill by its own Liberal Senator Colin Kenny that would help turn the tide.

Kenny's Tobacco Youth Protection Act would impose a levy of $360 million on the sale of cigarettes that would go directly to fighting youth smoking.

A similar approach in California has been stunningly successful, but Kenny's bill died in the Liberals' haste to call an early election.

If this bill isn't revived, it can only be speculated that it has something to do with the publicity-seeking Rock's fear of being upstaged by legislation that might actually make an impact.

That would be absurd, and even more so when you consider the feds rake in some $2 billion a year thanks to smokers, but spend only $20 million a year on any form of tobacco control.

That kind of hypocrisy is much more gruesome than any gory, full-colour cigarette label.

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