A corpse with a stitched-up chest, a smoker’s black lung, a mouth disfigured by cancer scars: Drastic pictures on cigarette packs are supposed to deter smokers. This could actually work, because horror pictures are much more shocking than abstract verbal warnings.

Smoking is harmful, dangerous and deadly. Those who smoke not only cause themselves harm, but also their fellow man. This has long been known, scientifically proven and verified often. Heart attack and stroke, thrombosis and impotence, cirrhosis of the liver, gastrointestinal ulcers, all types of cancer and many more afflictions trace back to smoking or occur considerably more often with regular nicotine consumption. We have known this for centuries; however, smokers do not want to know it.

Smokers speak well of their vice, bringing arguments about the uncle who has lived to be 90 in spite of three packs a day — or they qualify the risk because, after all, life itself is a risk and ends with death. Most smokers repress the danger. They are the target of the American Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) planned campaign. Drastic pictures on the packaging — a corpse with a stitched-up chest, a smoker’s black lung and a mouth disfigured by cancer scars — are supposed to deter smokers. It is not surprising that the four major tobacco firms are complaining.

The explicit depiction is, however, correct and important. Pictures are more effective as warnings than words. The tobacco industry knows that the vivid imagery on the packs will make such an impression on some smokers that, as a consequence, they will consume less nicotine. The firms justifiably fear substantial loss of sales. The tobacco lobby’s protest shows how meaningful the planned pictures on cigarette packs in 2012 are. Europe should consider something similar.