· Mental Health/Neurology
|Jump to full article: New York Times, 2008-12-18|
Intro: Martin Lindstrom tries to convince us that the only effect of warning labels on cigarettes is increased craving to smoke. His source of evidence is a brain-imaging study he conducted on 32 smokers.
. . .
Mr. Lindstrom doesn't acknowledge evidence from numerous national and international studies indicating that graphic warnings are an inexpensive and effective component of comprehensive tobacco control.
The evidence shows that exposure to graphic warning labels increases smokers' knowledge of the health risks of smoking, and their intentions to quit, the likelihood that they attempt to quit and, most important, successful quitting. Smokers who react to the labels with the most fear and disgust are also most likely to quit in response to them.
Should Mr. Lindstrom's brain images dictate our public health policy? The evidence tells a different story.
Martin Lindstrom reports the results of a study in which all subjects were smokers. It is no surprise that seeing an image of tobacco products, even in the context of attendant health problems, caused activity in the so-called craving spot in the brains of smokers. That is the nature of addiction -- knowledge of negative effects doesn't reduce the desire for the addictive substance.
A more useful study would include an equal number of nonsmokers. If viewing health warnings caused activity in the parts of the brain that register alarm or disapproval in nonsmokers, we could conclude that such information is useful in preventing people from starting smoking.
For addiction, as for all health problems, prevention is easier and more effective than treatment.
What little we know about the brain's addiction center indicates that it responds not only to potentially addictive cues but also to any that signal uncertainty about rewards and penalties. Could those labels actually be effective in creating doubt in smokers regarding their dangerous habit?
Our understanding of brain imaging does not permit us to draw any firm conclusions about Mr. Lindstrom's findings. But in the context of considerable evidence to the contrary, they should hardly be the basis for health policy in the United States. Dan Romer
It's one thing to be antismoking, but it's quite another to deny that tobacco gives pleasure and comfort to millions, to deny that many of us are deeply skeptical of the antismoking movement and, ultimately, to deny human nature.
Antitobacco scaremongering is indeed at, or beyond, the point of being counterproductive.
I suggest an alternative, though it may strike some as radical. How about just leaving us alone?
One day my father died of lung cancer and emphysema. Even in the hospital, dying, he managed to mooch cigarettes from my mother. That day I taped my last cigarette on my office wall and told my office mate that this was the last cigarette I would ever smoke.
For more than 50 years, I have easily kept my word, suffering hardly any withdrawal pains and after-meal temptations. What worked: sheer fear.
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