No ifs, ands or butts: FDA warn­ing pho­tos faked

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

For decades, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has ac­cused to­bacco com­pa­nies of run­ning a cam­paign of re­lent­less de­cep­tion in or­der to sell cig­a­rettes and con­vince cus­tomers that their prod­uct will make you sexy, skinny, cool or what­ever.

On June 21, the gov­ern­ment un­veiled its lat­est salvo in its cam­paign against these com­pa­nies.

To­bacco ped­dlers will soon be forced to em­bla­zon ev­ery pack­age of their prod­uct with graphic new warn­ings that show what the gov­ern­ment says will hap­pen to you if you smoke cig­a­rettes.

One warn­ing shows a ca­daver ly­ing on a steel ta­ble, chest zipped closed by gi­ant sta­ples. An­other, a pair of nas­tily cor­roded lungs. In an­other im­age, an in­fant is con­fined to an in­cu­ba­tor and hooked up to a breath­ing tube. In one star­tling im­age, a man is puff­ing on a cig­a­rette with wisps of smoke es­cap­ing a tra­cheotomy hole in the cen­ter of his throat.

There is only one prob­lem with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s great cam­paign of graphic im­ages aimed at com­bat­ing the de­ceit of to­bacco com­pa­nies and res­cu­ing us from our stupid selves. The im­ages are fab­ri­cated. “Some are pho­to­graphs; some are il­lus­tra­tions,” a spokesman at the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices ex­plained to me when I called about the new pic­tures.

The dead man with the zipped-up chest? “It’s not a dead body,” the spokesman as­sured me. “It’s an ac­tor. It’s sup­posed to be a ca­daver af­ter an au­topsy.”

The man with the wispy smoke com­ing out of the hole in his throat? “That’s a Pho­to­shopped il­lus­tra­tion.”

The baby in an in­cu­ba­tor is a creepy draw­ing.

As for the cor­roded lungs? Who knows, given their track record so far? Maybe it is a real pic­ture and that of a smoker. Or, per­haps they are the lungs of some­one who han­dled as­bestos in a Navy yard for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Or maybe it is al­to­gether faked.

The gov­ern­ment un­veiled the bo­gus pic­tures at a White House event staged to look like a press con­fer­ence.

Wil­liam Corr, a deputy sec­re­tary at HHS, lamented the for­mal set­ting, say­ing: “We should be hav­ing a party to cel­e­brate!” He went on to tes­tify how the new pic­tures “tell the truth.”

An­other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial called the to­bacco com­pany ad­ver­tis­ing “non-fac­tual and con­tro­ver­sial.” The gov­ern­ment’s fal­si­fied pic­tures, he said, “speak the truth.”

Not that these gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials had to de­fend them­selves or their cam­paign from any­one sitting in the au­di­ence sec­tion. Most ques­tions be­gan with a glowing congratulations or an emo­tional thank you.

“What lan­guages will be avail­able on the quit line?” in­quired one of the ques­tion­ers about the hot­line num­ber that will be plastered be­neath each of the haunt­ing im­ages.

The grue­some na­ture of the pic­tures call to mind the deeply dis­turb­ing and bloody pic­tures pro-life pro­test­ers blow up and carry on picket signs out­side po­lit­i­cal events.

A tiny fist, clenched as if around a fin­ger, or in agony, ripped from its wrist, trailed by bloody veins. Or the un­mis­tak­able im­age of a baby’s face, squished and dis­torted and wrenched off its skull.

Few peo­ple find them­selves ex­posed to these hor­rific im­ages more of­ten than re­porters here in Wash­ing­ton, who travel the coun­try­side chas­ing af­ter po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates.

When a bus full of re­porters pulls into a po­lit­i­cal rally, these pic­tures bob up and down right at bus win­dow level. A quiet falls over ev­ery­one.

Re­porters re­coil in­ter­nally and give a shiver. They look away from the win­dows. One will in­var iably spit, “That should be il­le­gal.”

Vis­ually, in terms of re­pul­sive­ness, there is lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween the tac­tics of the abor­tion pro­test­ers and those of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. In fact, the only dif­fer­ence is that the gov­ern­ment doc­tored its pic­tures.

And you paid for them.

Char­lie Hurt can be reached at


Your tax dol­lars at work: This im­age pro­vided by the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion on June 21 shows one of nine new warn­ing la­bels cig­a­rette mak­ers will have to use by the fall of 2012.

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