Saturday, 30 May 2009

I'd rather have throat rot than be lied to

A while ago, I care not exactly when, cigarette packets began to be adorned with gory pictures and threatening words. At the start there were just advisory messages, all of which said nothing more in substance than "smoking cigarettes might make you ill". Things were quite honest in those days. Of course that wasn't enough for the hectoring single issue fanatics, so then we read "smoking kills" and "smoking causes lung cancer". Now we have pictures of rotten teeth and nasty red masses on necks. Yesterday I bought a packet of ciggies adorned by the image of a curved cigarette. The picture appears within a rectangle. The filter end of the cigarette is at the bottom left corner and arches upwards and to the right, then there is a length of white gently curving to the top of the rectangle, then a length of ash curving down from the top-centre towards the middle-right of the rectangle. Beneath the image is the terrifying warning "Smoking may reduce the blood flow and causes impotence".

I had to think about the warning because it seemed on first reading to be garbled and contradictory. The lack of clarity is emphasised by the way the warning is written, there is a change of colour, it reads like this: "Smoking may reduce the blood flow and causes impotence". I'm not a one to be picky but there really does seem to be an awful lot wrong with this whole thing.

The image of a curved cigarette is, presumably, meant to suggest a drooping penis that would be firm and proud if not for its owner's smoking habit. So why does it start by heading upwards and maintain a curve that eventually heads down? Is that what the impotent experience? Do they have sufficient blood flow for the old pecker to start its excited journey on a steep upward path only to find that it can manage nothing better than a smooth curve leaving the tip some thirty degrees above the starting point? Or are they, in fact, not able to get anything like this initial upward thrust? I don't know, but I would guess restricted blood flow into the pecker would almost always mean a state of general firmness can be achieved for some time but without any significant upward movement. I would guess everything heads south albeit with slightly more girth than when the good lady has a headache.

And why do they use a cigarette to illustrate it? They tell us that smoking causes our teeth to rot and show a graphic image of blackened stumps and fetid gums. They tell us smoking causes throat cancer and show a photograph of a man with a massive and, frankly, thoroughly unpleasant scarlet growth on his neck. Why do they get all coy rather than showing a limp, impotent willy doing its inadequate best to prepare itself for the most sticky of matrimonial duties?

The written warning is nothing short of bizarre. It is divided into two parts: (i) "Smoking may reduce the blood flow", (ii) "and causes impotence". Red script is used to emphasise "reduce the blood flow" and "causes impotence".

I can't resist it, I'm sorry but I just can't, I have to be picky. "Smoking may reduce the blood flow" is meaningless. "May" is permissive: "You may have an extra scone, Vicar, if you take your hand off my knee", "Thank you, I'll forgo the scone". "Might", in this context, is concerned with probabilities. They mean "Smoking might reduce the blood flow". As far as I know that would be accurate, as far as I know smoking can cause or accelerate the clogging of arteries, therefore it might reduce the flow of blood around the body including to the willy. But only "might", it does not have that effect on every smoker.

Because smoking might or might not restrict blood flow, it might or might not cause or contribute to impotence, yet there is no qualification on the second part of the warning. It states in bold terms "and causes impotence". That is absolutely true in those instances where it causes impotence, but it is not a universal truth. When it cause impotence it does so by reducing the blood flow, not, as far as I am aware, by any other mechanism. What I find troubling is that the first part of the warning (despite the incorrect use of "may" rather than "might") states that reduced blood flow is a risk associated with smoking cigarettes, yet the second part asserts without qualification that smoking causes impotence.

No doubt those who drafted this incompetent warning would seek to justify it by isolating the words "smoking ... causes impotence" and arguing that this is indeed the case sometimes. That is no justification. The first and second parts of the warning work in tandem, impotence is a sub-set of reduced blood flow. Yet "causes impotence" is given red lettering all by itself. All they have to do to tell the truth is change two words so that the warning reads: "Smoking might reduce the blood flow and cause impotence". No one could argue with that without looking a bit of a chump. As it is, the warning is simply wrong. Perhaps it is just incompetence, perhaps it is deliberate deceit, either way it makes warnings on cigarette packets even more of an absurdity than they have ever been.


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can you not complain to the advertising standards about this,start a campaign with smokers fighting back.

Stan said...

Hmmm, I wonder how long it takes before passive smoking is blamed for secondary impotence? "Sorry, Sharon - I can't get it up 'cos I used to work in a smoky pub ..... thirty years ago".

H.R. said...

Let's light one up, then sit back for a few minutes and ponder what it will all mean to us after 100 years have passed...

...OK. A hundred years from now, no one will care a whit whether or not anyone in particular smoked today.

Docwinky said...

"smoking may reduce the blood flow and cause impotence"

"smoking may reduce the blood flow and causes impotence"

The s is the key; sloppy grammar or rampant unsubstantiated sloganeering, take your pick.

TheFatBigot said...

Ah, Mr Winky, no. I shouldn't have to take my pick because that renders what is meant to be a serious health warning into something I can interpret as I will.

You see, I can have no factual basis for distinguishing between sloppy grammar and rampant unsubstantiated sloganeering; although I can substitute "might" for "may" with confidence. I do not know and cannot know what they meant to say. That's why they should get it right or not bother at all.

Did they actually mean what the omission of the "s" would convey or did they mean that reduced blood flow is a possibility yet impotence is a cert? I don't know and nor does any other reader, not that either interpretation is likely to have any appreciable effect on the number of people who smoke.

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