Friday, December 12, 2008

Smoke Signals

A nascent backlash against anti-smoking puritans? First, there's this (somewhat silly) Slate article that advocates a smoker President:

In fact, I'd argue that Obama's smoking habit gives us another reason to like him: He's not a perfect paragon of the Whole Foods boho sensibility, comments about arugula notwithstanding. I'm told there are people who were surprised to learn he smoked, as if it was somehow shocking he didn't fit all the virtuous liberal-elite stereotypes. It would be refreshing (and not in that cool-menthol way) if he's more a democrat, less a virtue-crat.

I also wonder—and this will seem wildly heretical to virtue-crats, so hide the children—whether some of Obama's finer qualities aren't bound up in his alleged nicotine sins. That contemplative self-possession that so many admire him for. It might come from Obama's ability to sit back, inhale a puff or two, slow down and think—meditate, cogitate—before acting. Sure it's a trade-off. Lung cancer later in life: the percentage grows grim.
And now this op-ed in the Times, about anti-smoking warnings on cigarette packages:

Each subject lay in the scanner for about an hour while we projected on a small screen a series of cigarette package labels from various countries — including statements like “smoking kills” and “smoking causes fatal lung cancers.” We found that the warnings prompted no blood flow to the amygdala, the part of the brain that registers alarm, or to the part of the cortex that would be involved in any effort to register disapproval.

To the contrary, the warning labels backfired: they stimulated the nucleus accumbens, sometimes called the “craving spot,” which lights up on f.M.R.I. whenever a person craves something, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, tobacco or gambling.

Further investigation is needed, but our study has already revealed an unintended consequence of antismoking health warnings. They appear to work mainly as a marketing tool to keep smokers smoking.