What’s the best way to discourage smoking?

The federal government has released nine graphic warning labels it will require on packages of cigarettes beginning next year. The labels include images of damaged lungs and a dead body. Today’s Question: What’s the best way to discourage smoking?

  • Ellen

    I have been a smoker for about three years- and in my opinion the only ways that seriously make me consider quitting (other than it being unhealthy) is when either a child I care for sees me or when talking to someone who has gotten a disease caused by smoking. These labels? Honestly– I don’t think it’s going to make a huge difference at all. Someone has to make the decision to quit for themselves and a picture on the cigarette pack isn’t going to change it. To me it’s more of an annoyance. Yes- we all know smoking is bad for us. But there’s lots of things bad for us. Is the government going to put pictures of drunk driving accidents, livers destroye by alcohol, or victims of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome on liquor labels? If they’re going to crack down on one bad habit- crack down on all of them.

  • Test for smoking/tobacco use and refuse treatment under all state & federal healthcare programs for anyone testing positive for any disorder or illness attributable to tobacco use.

    There simply is no way to disallow humans from making self-destructive decisions. None!

  • Steve the Cynic

    A mixture of guilt, shame and fear can be highly effective. Whether that’s the best way depends on what one means by “best.”

  • zeke

    Education and taxation.

  • Alison

    Do your best at raising your kids to be responsible and make good choices, but even that is no guarantee. It seems to me that a lot of smoking starts with drinking at teenage parties. If you can raise kids who aren’t into the drinking and party scene they will also be less likely to smoke.

  • TA

    Those who smoke cigarettes are addicted to nicotine. Addictions are a hard thing to get get rid of. I don’t know that it is wise to penalize people who have “smoking-related” illnesses unless their doctors can prove that, yes because this person smokes, they have this illness. There are people who develop diseases who never smoke a day in their life (could be attributed to genes and second-hand smoke–not their fault).

    I believe education is a great tool for anything, but education on the negative impact of smoking is all around us and constantly around us. However, making a dent in the wallet of a smoker is probably a route I would take. I’m in favor of increasing taxes (or fees as some like to call it) on cigarettes.

  • Al

    Taxation might be a great incentive to stop smoking, however I wonder where the tipping point is. When do the taxes become so high that the market for cigarettes is forced underground like illegal drugs? Has it already reached that point in some places? When we reach that point we have just created another product for organized crime to exploit?

  • Gary F

    I tell people to keep smoking, there is a politician with a spending habit that needs a fix!

    I tell them to light’m up! We need the tax revenue.

    I tell them they must be rich, because I can’t afford to smoke1

    I tell the kids that they need to smoke because schools need the tax dollars!

    When the Obama Regime raised cig taxes in early 2009, I told kids to keep smoking because Obama needed the money.

    Since Obama raised the taxes on cigars I have not bought one since, I have been given a few, but never bought one. So I guess raising the tax on them worked for me.

    Smoking taxes are so regressive, but the big spenders need their money.

  • Rich

    The magic of tax cuts and ponies and unicorns and lets through in some pixie dust as well ….

    Although the external cost of smoking to society has been well documented. One thing is certain: You can’t legislate stupidity! The liberty and freedom to commit suicide by smoking is still a personal freedom we should treasure.. ; )

  • Amy

    I agree with an earlier comment, there are a lot more things that are bad for us than smoking. If you want to argue that smokers should be denied medical treatment for the illness that result, then people who drink alcohol, drink too much caffeine, and eat too many cheeseburgers should also be shunned from the medical industry. Its a bad argument and I can’t understand why so much focus is put on smoking when other “vices” cause much more cumulative damage to the body.

    I don’t smoke and never plan to, but I know plenty of people who have quit smoking and all decided to because they decided it wasn’t worth the risk to their health. It is ultimately a personal choice to quit and like all other addictive substances, a person will not quit until they have decided they are ready. Same goes for if someone decides to cut back on drinking because they don’t want to kill their liver, or cut back on energy drinks because they are tired of the ups and downs, or cut back on fast food because they have reached an unhealthy weight- its all about personal choice and readiness

  • Clark


  • Carrie

    I think the best way to discourage smoking is to set a good example for your children. It starts young. If you can convince your children that it’s an awful habit that they should never start, you have a good chance of preventing a life long addiction.

  • Kyle D.

    Smoking is already heavily discouraged. People keep asking this type of question because there are still smokers– and that’s always going to be the case.

    The only thing that can be done is to try and internalize the externalities of smoking, so that the costs it produces are borne as much as possible by the people who choose to smoke.

    If both private and public health insurance didn’t cover costs of medical issues caused by smoking it might help. It would at least keep the unnecessary decision to smoke from forcing others to pay for the consequences.

  • Philip

    My wife and I have never smoked and we tried the setting a good example thing. Then my eldest daughter picked up the habit from her friends. Now she has a daughter and we keep pointing to the baby as a deterrent for smoking. At least she smokes outside the house. Please stay tuned, it might work (maybe).

  • AK

    Smokers are good people with bad habits. One way to discourage smoking is to make it an inconvenience, for example ‘no smoking on company grounds’.

    I led a successful campaign at a MNSCU university for the entire campus to become tobacco-free. Smoking is one of the few bad habits that has negative impacts on so many levels. The individual who smokes, second-hand smoke, third-hand smoke are all health risks, and tax payers money is used to treat them.

    Be supportive. I know it’s difficult.

  • matt

    Govt subsidies of tobacco production in 2009 were over $209 million.

  • Jason

    Target teens (obviously) with more universal messages from peers and their celebrity idols making it clear that smoking is not cool.

    When I was a teen some of my peers started smoking because they were isolated in small pockets of bad influence. Today social media could play a more positive role in dissuading smoking. It allows for greater contact and connections with more responsible groups.

  • D

    It’s a bit confusing to see a herb that does so much damage to society remain popular, sociable and legal. Whilst at the same time their other favorite herb is wrongly demonized and criminal despite it’s very healthful benefits. The hypocrisy is hard to miss.

    Solution: Give the smokers better options than just cancer.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Um, D, I have some bad news for you. Smoking anything can cause cancer and/or emphysema. I don’t know whether canabis is less bad than tobacco, but smoke of any kind is bad for your lungs.

  • David

    To help more Minnesotans quit smoking, tobacco policies such as higher prices should be considered. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a $1.50 per pack increase is estimated to save 61,700 Minnesota kids from becoming addicted adult smokers and would help 28,100 adult smokers quit. Keeping people from starting to smoke combined with encouraging others to quit will do wonders for saving the more than 5,100 Minnesotans who die each year from smoking and the more than $3 billion a year that Minnesotans pay in tobacco-related health care costs. QUITPLAN® Services, an evidence-based cessation program, offers free stop-smoking plans and counseling to all Minnesotans.

  • Stu klipper

    How’bout augmenting those visuals with a ‘sound track’. Stick a little sound chip like those that go into greeting cards in each pack … and whenever a cigarette is taken out it plays the sounds of someone coughing their lungs out.

  • EAL

    Let’s take the opportunity to reframe the question. In a free society, is it the government’s responsibility to to spend tax payer dollars when smoking is an individual choice decsion. Yes, smokers should take responsibility for their decisions! Finally, individual choice, in a free socieity is what government, at all levels, should drive towards.

  • Jennifer Gilhoi

    I am going with the making it inconvenient route. The best thing that every happened in MN was making it illegal in bars/ restaurants. Obviously people know smoking is bad for them and many you talk to are trying to quit or plan to quit someday. The less they’re exposed to it and/or the more inconvenient it is to smoke, the less likely people are to start and the more likely people who are trying to quit, can.

  • michele Kessler

    First things first.

    I don’t smoke. Never have.

    My mother died from complications of smoking.

    My grandfather died of throat cancer from

    smoking. He had a trac.

    The graphic photos: the image of the man smoking via his trac brought back memories. My Grandfather smoked that way.

    The graphic images might deter a few people. But for every craft there is a craft. People will simply remove their cigs from the package. Start watching for fun little boxes you can put your cigs in at craft fairs; for the ladies anyway.

    The dead guy with the incision on his chest does not look dead to me. He still looks warm. I say my mother when she died. Her mouth was agape, her skin lost its color and her ears turned blue.

    Got to run now.

  • David

    First off I don’t smoke, but did in my younger days for a few years. I don’t see quitting as a big deal. If people wanted to quit bad enough they just would. That said I don’t remember ever voting for my mom, so I don’t see why the government thinks they need to be the mommy-nanny for the country. The government has two jobs as I see it, maintain the public infrastructure, and over see public safety. Smoking laws do not fall within the first, and it’s a stretch to make smoking laws fall within the later. We’re all adults and can make our own decisions. The government needs to start minding its own business, get this budget figured out, and make our road, schools, airports, etc the top notch in the world. Anything else it overstepping its bounds.

    Since the government is our mommy-nanny, then they need to stop being shills to the tobacco industry (all industry for that matter) and just make smoking illegal once and for all. They’ll do it eventually anyway. Anything else is ridiculous political grandstanding and a distraction from real problems facing all of us. Stop being hypocrites (the REAL majority party of the United States) and end all prohibitions currently on the book; Drugs, abortions, gay marriage, etc. You just can’t have it both.

  • CF

    As long as tobacco exists, people will smoke it. This has been the case since it’s “discovery” by Columbus and used by island natives for who knows how long before that.

    Anyone who says smoking is a moral sin only has to look in the mirror and ask, “am I a good person?” I hope the answer is no. To deny health care to smokers to some is a solution. OK, should we also deny AIDS treatment because those who get AIDS are homosexuals or IV drug users? Should we deny healthcare for alcohol-related illness. With our health “care” system as it is, we already discriminate based on income and with that, race. Do we now add insult to injury by deciding if someone’s disease was based on their morals? If so let’s make a list. No healthcare for you if…

    You smoke

    You drink

    You are sexually active outside the bonds marriage

    between one man and one woman

    You are fat

    You eat at McDonald’s

    You don’t exercise

    You have an accident as a result of DWI

    You have an accident because you drive poorly

    You use drugs

    You ____________ (fill in the blank)

    So when you go to the doctor’s or the hospital, along with all the other paperwork you have to fill out before you are treated, let’s add another ten pages of moral sins that caused your problem. Then if any one is checked, you can be denied care.

    And you die.

  • Greg

    Pesistenatly, in a polite and civil tone, respectful of the smokers current rights and feelings. Expect that many will die prematurely using this approach.

  • Melissa M.

    Raise the price! $1.50 increase in tobacco products will help prevent more than 61,000 kids from ever starting smoking (that’s equivalent to every 8th grader in MN). Even if you don’t smoke, you and every man, woman, and child pays $554 each year for smoking related expenditures. Raising the price of tobacco products would increase state revenue by $140 million annually AND save more than $1 billion in health care costs.

  • Kayla H.

    Raise the price of tobacco!

    In Minnesota, 19% of high school students currently smoke. Today, 17 youth in Minnesota will become addicted to nicotine and increase their risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder, cervix, and leukemia.

    Increasing the tobacco tax in MN by $1.50 can prevent over 61,000 kids from becoming addicted to smoking! That’s equal to the number of 8th graders currently in MN!

  • Rebecca

    Adding these warning labels should help discourage smoking. But making cigarettes more expensive is a proven tactic that hits home much harder than pictures. More expensive cigarettes = less tobacco users.

  • Rebecca T.

    The best way to discourage smoking is to keep the price of tobacco high and prohibit indoor smoking.

  • Vivian

    The right to spray the smokers and extinguish their smoke thing at onset. This would mean the right to conceal and carry squirt guns, water bottles, buckets of water and/or garden hoses (if available and actually most desireable for best effects.)

    Nothing is more effective, though, than having your little 3 to 4 year old ECFE student sitting in the back seat and reminding the driver that smoking is child abuse. 😉

  • Joel

    Increase taxes on tobacco and tobacco products to achieve outcomes as has been successfully done in the past. The objective is to eventually arrive at an individual’s intolerance threshold. The choice to quit smoking is an analytical one. I am opposed to posting scary or upsetting images on the packaging.

  • David

    I just had an idea that’s only fair. If they have to put these gruesome pictures on cigarette packs they probably should put pictures of dead soldiers on SUV and on billboards all along the interstates. Our young people are dying do keep the oil supplies flowing so fat and lazy people can drive their gas guzzling SUVs over the speed limit every day.

  • Eric Ringham

    I smoked, then quit, then smoked, then quit again, then smoked … always hiding it from my kids. Then one day my teen-aged daughter caught me, and she made me a promise: The next time she saw me with a cigarette, she’d smoke a cigarette. That did it. I never smoked again.

  • Jess K.

    The graphics and heath message on cigarette packages and advertising is a great step forward to combat the tobacco industry and their marketing tactics. They are educational and take up 50% of the package ad space. The current health warning on the package hasn’t changed in 25 years!

    There are three proven methods for preventing kids from starting and helping people quit:

    1. Provide FREE smoking cessation help (we do).

    2. Keep restaurants and bars smoke free (we have).

    3. Significantly increase the tobacco tax (we haven’t done this since 2005).

    As a former smoker, I wish that I had never started. Saying “I wish I could quit” wasn’t really accurate. I didn’t WANT to quit smoking, I was addicted, I loved smoking.

    But I wish that I had never started; that it wasn’t okay to smoke indoors, that as a high school/college student that cigarettes were too expensive; or if I didn’t believe the marketing of the tobacco industry. Ugg.

    Encouragement from family, friends, co-workers, nicotine replacement therapy, smoke-free bars and restaurants, and the increase in the price is what helped me quit. It wasn’t just one thing. I have always envied those who say, “I quit cold turkey,” or “Quitting wasn’t a big deal, it’s easy.” Quitting was hard for me, at times I thought impossible. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to humans; couple that with the physical habit of raising a cigarette to your mouth around 200 times a day for years. It’s amazing anyone is able to quit. After all, we are creatures of habit.

    To help people quit and to keep kids from starting, it’s not just one simple “fix all” strategy. It requires multiple strategies all working together. We have 2 out of 3… Now it’s time to raise the tobacco tax.

  • Adam

    The single best way to make people buy and use less of anything is to make it more expensive. We have already acted to make smoking more costly in terms of time and convenience by banning indoor smoking, with the added health benefit of reducing exposure to second hand smoke. Now it’s time increase the financial cost of smoking by raising the tobacco tax, with the added benefit of helping to address the state’s budget mess.

    Smoking is still a major source of cost to the state in terms of health care expenditures (whether public or private) . According to a href=”http://www.preventionminnesota.com/objects/pdfs/X18121_A_HCC_and_Smoking.pdf” target=”_blank”>Blue Cross Blue ShieldLink, smoking costs every Minnesota $554 a year, whether they smoke or not. Raising the tobacco tax by $1.50 would both help offset that costs and encourage more people to quite or never start.

  • Sally Hausken

    As a grade school-aged child, my mother and father were heavy smokers. In private, my mother told me it was ok if I wanted to smoke AS LONG AS I DID IT IN FRONT OF HER. I could never get up the courage to smoke a cigarette, Deep down, I think I knew it would hurt her too much.

    You just had a comment by a woman who said her daughter had told her to smoke in front of the daughter, and that prompted her to quit. The reverse, but the same outcome.

  • CF

    Why is it almost everyone posting wants to raise the cigarette tax? Perhaps because none of you smoke or worse, are ex-smokers?

    Why is every other tax; tax the rich, gas tax, alcohol tax, sales tax, property tax and any tax OTHER than the cigarette tax considered abhorrent. When you think it’s perfectly fine to impose a tax on one segment of society you lose all privilege to argue against any other product or use specific tax.

    I also like all the fortune tellers here who predict the future by claiming that increases in tax or these ridiculous labels will reduce smoking. If so can you tell me if Ricky Rubio will make the Wolves a better team this year? Statistics schmatistics, they don’t mean anything!

    Lastly, even if there were no such thing as tobacco, our health care in this country would still be prohibitively expensive and discriminatory to those who can least afford it. Don’t blame cigarettes for high costs when hospital, drug and device company and insurance CEO’s make billions.

  • In addition to being an ex-smoker, I see a lot of smokers who are trying to quit every day. The interesting thing about cigarettes is they can become a close friend especially when times are tough. If a person looses a job for instance, they smoke even more or they return to the habit they had once quit. It does not make sense that someone who just lost their income would want to create a $6.00 per day expense, but that is frequently what happens.

    When a person is forced to see the terrible effects of tobacco every time they pull out their pack of cigarettes, it will only make them more feel more nervous, which will create a desire to light up another one. Additionally, eventually, like everything else, they will ignore the pictures in the same way they learned to ignore the warnings that have been printed on the packaging for decades now.

    I wish I had the answer, but I doubt the pictures will have much effect.

    Long term, probably the best thing we can do to discourage smoking is to continue to educate kids and make the habit very uncool. The trick is to eventually make smoking/chewing something that teenagers see as being a disgusting habit that they don’t want any part of.

    If we can stop them at that age it becomes more and more unlikely they will ever start in the first place.

  • Linda A.

    The State of Minnesota hasn’t raised the tobacco tax since 2005. Raise it $1.50. Raising the cost of tobacco discourages new smokers (our youth) and will cause people to quit. 62,000 youth will be prevented from smoking – that is equivalent to every 8th grader in the state of Minnesota. It would increase state revenue by $140 million annually and it save more than $1 billion in health care costs.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Al was right at 7:19 this morning. Raising tobacco taxes only works up to a point. If the tax gets too high, it will create a black market and encourage organized crime.

  • Debra

    One effective method to reduce smoking would be for insurance companies to significantly reduce coverage for smoking-related illness. This would also lower the premiums for the rest of us.

  • Kevin VC

    I lived with a parent who smoked constantly.

    This caused me to form a allergy to cigarette smoke, and that caused me to be sick a lot as a kid. But being home sick was not any easier, since I would be home with the same parent.

    This has cause life long problems for me and I am not even the one who smoked. Those who think smoking only hurts themselves are absolute morons….

    And its not a ‘individual right’ thing, just as suicide and murder are not rights….

    I have seem many who are thick headed about it. Which only proves even more how addicting it is to the user. They make excuses all the time…

    And what is sad is EVERYONE pays the higher costs of health care for them…. Everyone.

    There is no easy answer, and even the changes to the packaging is not enough.

    Ad micro tasers at the smoking end will not deter them. But still this is a battle worth fighting for, even if its trying to save them from their own enslavement to the stupid sticks.

    Maybe kill them off early so its not a prolonged thing? (joking of course.)

  • Josh D.

    The public smoking ban was one of the best things that every happened to me. I had quit many times, but would always pick it back up. All it took was a few too many drinks and all my friends around me smoking. It didn’t matter if the bar was selling them for $10 a pack! I’d buy em and get right back on the wagon. Finally, once they banned public smoking I was able to quit for good. Good written. Make it as inconvenient to smoke as possible, and it will wither away with time.

  • CF

    @ Debra

    Relating to that comment, should insurance companies also reduce or refuse coverage for smokers, what about obese people or those who drink?

    The fact is the insurance industry already denies coverage based on their ability to make a profit at the peril of the patient whether they smoke or not!

    And no, in spite of wishful thinking of a tobacco-free utopia, rates would not go down. Case in point. At my last employer, the difference in monthly insurance premium for smokers vs. non-smokers was a whopping $20 of a $250 per month premium. Big deal! So where is the savings for not smoking????

  • Vivian

    @ CF

    $20.00 is a gallon of 2% milk, a dozen eggs, a loaf of Brownberry oatnut bread, a bag of apples, a can of frozen orange juice, a medium size jar of peanut butter and a bag of carrots.

  • CF

    @ Vivian

    But a very tiny drop in the bucket when it comes to the cost of health insurance. My point was that if smoking really does increase the cost of health care as the anti-smokers claim, one would think non-smokers would pay say 50% less in their premiums?

  • vivian


    //My point was that if smoking really does increase the cost of health care as the anti-smokers claim, one would think non-smokers would pay say 50% less in their premiums?

    or the ultimate credits in not smoking are the benefits of better health.

  • vivian


    //My point was that if smoking really does increase the cost of health care as the anti-smokers claim, one would think non-smokers would pay say 50% less in their premiums?

    or the ultimate credits in not smoking are the benefits of better health.

  • Adam

    “Why is every other tax; tax the rich, gas tax, alcohol tax, sales tax, property tax and any tax OTHER than the cigarette tax considered abhorrent. When you think it’s perfectly fine to impose a tax on one segment of society you lose all privilege to argue against any other product or use specific tax.”

    Cigarettes aren’t a “segment of society.” You can always choose to quit. Which, of course, is the point.

  • CF

    @ Adam

    Well, cigarettes are not a segment of society, but those that use them are. And they are a legal product. Now if you want to go down the road of social engineering through taxation, then…

    Should a Big Mac with fries and a pop cost $15?

    Should there be a $50 cable tax because people watch too much TV and not exercise? Should license tabs on a car have a “not walking fee”? Should salt be taxed per ounce or oil and shortening be taxed as well?

    The only ones who would benefit from draconian cigarette taxes are organized crime rings and gangs. As well as hostile countries like North Korea or terrorist groups. Ultimately higher cigarette taxes would be offset by increases in expenditures for criminal justice and incarceration. In case you forgot, the last time the cigarette tax was increased, there was also a spike in retail cigarette theft!



  • D Trett

    Um, Michell. I don’t mean to embarrass you in public or anything, but your CAPS-LOCK is showing.

  • Michell Olson

    ha there , DTrett, I am not enbarrassed at all, I believe in what I wrote and I did the caps lock on purpsoe so people like your self would notice I mean what I say

  • Steve the Cynic

    It didn’t work, Michell. When you type in all caps, it comes across as an angry rant and actually invites people to ignore you.

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  • Paul M. Zahorosky

    You cannot seriously blame the consumer for things like this. It is completely the fault of factory conditions in foreign countries. It is also heavily fueled by the “parent” companies and the retail stores where their products are sold. Although I despise and never shop at Wal-Mart, a $15 pair of their jeans is made in a similar overseas factory as a pair of $90 Gap jeans. Every time I shop, I constantly look to purchase items made in the USA. This process is virtually impossible, however, as there are almost no companies with manufacturing facilities in our country. The only American presence for retail is advertising, warehousing, distribution, and sales — that’s it. I used to work at The Home Depot, and during the Holiday season I walked through the expansive “gift” area. I looked at every single package for sale and found only 2 items made in the USA: Energizer batteries and Holiday wrapping paper. All other items were made [mostly] in China as well as Pakistan, Syria, and Taiwan.

    I honestly spend less money now as my rule for purchasing domestic product strengthens. I TRULY WANT TO BUY AMERICAN — BUT THE PRODUCT JUST IS NOT AVAILABLE. And the process will never change because all of the people making and selling things the wrong way are taking in too much money to care. The only way they will learn is if everyone just stops buying their overpriced garbage… and, yes, even the $15 pair of Wal-Mart jeans is overpriced considering the $2 it costs them to make it. A company’s decision to move their production overseas is usually said to be necessary to remain “competitive”, but it actually has everything to do with making more profit. Has a company ever lowered their retail prices after moving overseas?… no. The prices go up while manufacturing costs go down. That’s their bottom line, and it’s all that matters to them.

    • Paul,

      Thanks for writing in. We heard from a lot of other people during the show today who, like you, feel frustrated by the lack of options. Thanks again.