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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How to sell healthy habits

"Ga" pointed out yesterday that the people responsible for trying to curb diabetes and get people to stop smoking are going about it wrong. Here is his (slightly edited) comment:

Whenever I see the campaigns to stop smoking try to guilt a person, portraying smoking as some evil bad guy in a cartoon, or talking about health effects that may not strike for decades, it seems inefficient. Likewise, with junk food, the attempts at "healthier food" in US high schools makes me shake my head....

If the campaigns focused on the idea that smoking is expensive and spending money on junk food is bad for your budget, maybe more people would stop. Signs saying "you can save enough money for a new computer in a year if you stop smoking" could be more efficient and get the intended result.

All true. Trying to convince teenagers that smoking or sugar may have bad side effects a decade or three down the road is hardly going to jolt them into healthier lifestyles. Money is a far more immediate and tangible benefit. 

I've always thought that to get people to quit smoking, you should appeal to their vanity. Simply point out that if they smoke, their skin will wrinkle far more rapidly, and they will likely look 45 by the time they're 35. As I've pointed out before, vanity is a stronger motivator for most of us than health. 

To get people to cut back on sugar, just feature more before-and-after pictures of people who've gotten fat. Those who disapprove of fat shaming will object, but the fact is, everybody looks better lean and healthy. (The best way to warn against meth would also be with before and after shots.) 

An even better way to push men in the right direction would be to point out that smoking and sugar both lower testosterone levels. The average man cares far more about his masculinity then he does about a potential heart attack decades down the road. 

It would never fly, but they should have a campaign featuring a beautiful young woman saying, "Twenty-five-year-old men ought to be able to do it more than once a day -- I'm through with smokers!"  

Years ago there was a public service message about drugs with a picture of an egg, and the caption, "this is your brain." Right next to it was a picture of a fried egg, with the caption, "This is your brain on drugs."

I can't recall seeing any evidence as to the efficacy of that campaign, but it seemed to have little effect. (As Tolstoy once said, nobody seems to think he has enough money, yet everyone seems to think he has a sufficiency of brains.) 

Needless to say, the campaign spawned a host of takeoffs. One showed a picture of a small circle right next to a larger circle. The caption, next to the smaller circle, read, "This is your asshole before you go to prison for drugs..."

The thing is, that probably would have been a more effective campaign. 

Likewise, appealing to people's vanity (and to men's machismo) would be far more effective than a dry warning from the Surgeon General.

Perhaps they could show a pair of big eggs next to two small ones. The caption could start off, "These are your testicles before you start smoking....."


Anonymous said...

Public service announcements do help. I remember seeing a poster in an ENT's office, showing a young man who'd developed mouth cancer as a result of chewing tobacco. The young man's face was disfigured and I think he died from the cancer. When my younger son started chewing tobacco, I discouraged this habit, telling him what could happen.

- Susan

John Craig said...

Susan --
A picture of that cancer victim, while ghoulish, would be an effective deterrent.

Steven said...

I don't know about in America but the cigarette packets in the UK are brutal. They are not allowed any company branding and instead are plain with a really graphic photo of a medical problem caused by smoking. I've even seen one with a picture of a child on a ventilator and a warning that SMOKING HARMS YOUR CHILDREN.

The smoking ban has been effective I think. I haven't looked up the stats but I'd guess smoking has declined quite rapidly in the last 20 years. If I see somebody smoking now, I think they are probably not the brightest.

I'm sure your suggestions would be effective though.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Those packets sound effective, but when I was in London for two weeks in the summer of '13, I couldn't go anywhere without having to breathe in cigarette smoke. It was definitely worse than in New York City.

Anonymous said...

Those packets are here in Asia too, i suspect it's just a compromise, the cigarette companies agree to put these pictures in exchange for not having tax rates raised for tobacco products any further. A packet here costs 6.8 USD going by exchange rate, in the USA it can be up to 12.5 bucks in New York from a google search.
Maybe being incredibly expensive is more effective than a picture, or maybe it's the other way around. I dunno.


Anonymous said...

Another of John's classics. Seriously, you should self publish your words of wisdom, Kindle probably. One title that would be apt is 'The Gospel according to Honest John'. Honest, down to earth, sensible advice anyone would find useful.

P.S: Do leave out the too lengthy pieces on Sociopathy and Aspergers. They do tend to drag.(my opinion, what's the point of flogging dead horses. Life is about sidestepping problems, what better way than having the 21st century Book of Wisdom.)

If you do need suggestions I'd be only too glad to help.


John Craig said...

Sherie --
Thank you very much.

However, some people like the pieces on sociopathy. And I enjoy writing them. Plus, I try to only write when I have something to say that I haven't heard anyone else say before (which is not to say that it hasn't been said), and a lot of my more original thoughts tend to be about things I've been confronted with, and those include sociopathy and Aspergers (particularly the former). And most people have no idea about the negative impact that sociopaths have on the world. So....sorry, but I'm going to continue to write about those topics.

I have gotten the feedback from others though that I don't put in enough funny posts anymore; I'll try to do more of those. Like the ones on fashion I used to write. But actually, in a weird way, I can't even promise that, since the idea of a blog is, you write about whatever thoughts occur to you, and you really can't control the thoughts that enter your head. (They just have a will of their own.)

The one ironclad promise I can make, however, is that I'll continue to be honest. In fact I think the next post I put up is going to be painfully so.

Anonymous said...

No offense meant. Honestly all your posts are good and informative. Your patient replies to all your blog commentators is something that I really appreciate and are at times more informative - like your answer to Smallberries --
It's my impression that the primary cause is simply the lack of a strong bond between a baby and a caregiver (usually the mother) in the first year of life. If you don't receive love, you're not going to be able to give love, either.....

But trying to be more of the glass half full kind of personality having been prone to depression, it depresses me to read about one more human aberration which could have been avoided with better parenting.

That said, believe me, your writing could be collated into a nice collection of sensible
living ideas without the heavy burden of morality.


John Craig said...

Sherie --
No offense taken, you've always been a friendly commenter. And I'm alway open to advice. (That doesn't mean I'm going to take it, though.)

Agreed on sociopathy.

I'm prone to depression too, but ward it off wth exercise. At my age, I can only work out hard every other day, and on the mornings of my workout days (when I haven't worked out since two days before) I can sometimes see the difference in mood. But endorphins are a healthy drug, I recommend them.

Thank you. although that would make me sounds a little sociopathic myself: "Morality-free Living," by John Craig.

Wait till you see my next post, which I'll probably put up this evening.

Anonymous said...

I experimented with drugs a long time ago, despite all the warnings I'd heard (cannabis can dramatically increase chances of getting schizophrenia, MDMA can be life-threatening, etc). I'm not proud of having taken them, and I wouldn't do drugs now, but at least I'm honest about my past - unlike so many top politicians who lie about their student days. One thing I never tried though was crystal meth, mainly due to the 'Faces of Meth' campaign by police forces in the UK and US. These pictures of meth user Roseanne Holland were enough to put me off:

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Wow, from human to zombie. Holland looks as if she were a wellborn 29 to start with, but yikes, she really looks like an extra from "The Walking Dead" by age 38.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sherie. As an adult, I realized that my siblings and I pretty much raised ourselves. Our parents were not abusive, but failed to effectively guide us in our childhood. When you learn about how good/bad parenting affects one's child development, it's quite eye opening. People who receive good, sound, solid parenting are blessed.

- Susan

Mark Caplan said...

We need to understand the many reasons people take up smoking in the first place before we can devise ways to short-circuit those reasons. Since I don't know why people smoke, I shouldn't assume all their reasons are invalid.

It's an established fact that smoking will ruin the health of most people who smoke for many years. But rock climbing, skydiving, eating oysters in July, and extreme skateboarding also carry serious health risks, yet plenty of people enjoy those activities, I suppose because they crave thrills.

The more society harps on the risks of smoking, the more daring and attractive it might seem to a certain risk-taking segment of society. People who like posing as rebels or outcasts might enjoy the stigma now attached to smoking by their social betters. People who identify as low-class, redneck, or trailer-trash will conspicuously display the usual cultural characteristics of their social class, which would include smoking.

John Craig said...

Mark --
I've always assumed that most people who smoke originally took it up because they thought it was "cool" -- in various senses of the term, including all the ways you describe -- and then after doing it awhile, get addicted to nicotine.

You're right, there's no question that there's a certain segment of society for whom appearing cool includes being a risk taker, or basically showing that you don't care. It's not all that different in spirit from getting a tattoo on your face.

I guess it didn't help that so many glamorous movie stars were shown smoking in their films, either.

Shaun F said...

John - As a pack a day smoker that goes to the gym I will say that smoking affects people of colour differently than whites.

It is widely noted among my peers that I look exactly the same as when I was nineteen and that was a long time ago. And as far as dental health is concerned - even my periodontist noted an improvement regardless of my habit. Which creates consternation in the dental community.

Guy Lafleur smoked as did Mike Bossy.

At the end of the day we pick our poisons but the consequences are out of our hands.

I have concluded we become slaves to what we (metaphorically) worship and dance a bit like puppets on strings.

I see the people you talk about, the overweight ones drinking their slurpees on the bus with their litter of children emulating them. It's sad.

However, I am not one to socially engineer other people (for the better) so I just figure we should drop the price of smokes and sugar products and lead the masses eat cake.

John Craig said...

Shaun --
There are exceptions, and you sound like one, but smoking generally ages people, especially their skin and their lungs. My grandfather smoked a half a pack a day till he was 83, then cut back to 3 or 4 cigarettes a day for the rest of his life, and died at 103 without a wrinkle on his face. But I wouldn't recommend smoking because of him, he was just an exception that defied the rule. As are you, evidently.

Mark Caplan said...

People often argue that smokers create an unnecessary burden on our social welfare system, that they are even "selfish" for doing so. But that line of reasoning has been debunked. In reality, it's a great financial benefit to society for people to die relatively young. Dying at 63 of lung cancer or a heart attack is much less costly to society than caring for a 95-year-old with dementia who has been collecting Social Security payments for 30 years and draining Medicare for almost as long.

LBD said...

Smoking did not decline precipitately until it became socially less acceptable. It has become somewhat of a class marker. Nurses smoke a lot, most doctors do not. If you hang out with well-educated middle class people, it is probable that nobody you know smokes.

At first when the Surgeon General's report came out in the 1960's many people quit, but they were mainly mature people facing middle age. Young people were still taking it up. Health threats seem to have the opposite effect on the young, they feel rebellious, especially since actors and models they admire are veritable chimneys.

The one thing I think helps a lot is that more and more venues do not tolerate smoking, so one would have to go out of one's way to enjoy, say, a cigarette and a drink or a cigarette and a meal. The discomfort of a long haul flight with no smoking must have some effect on the decision to continue smoking.

I was a VERY early tobacco opponent. When I was first out on my own at the age of 18 (1969), my peers were shocked that I did not allow it in my hovel. One thing Mad Men got right was the constant smoking, everywhere and anywhere in the early 1960's. That continued up until the 80's.

John Craig said...

Mark --
Ha, the way you paint that picture, it's true, but I suspect with smokers it's just moves up the timetable for the medical care. My son worked at the VA Hospital as a volunteer for a few weeks when he was in high school, back when I was still trying to dissuade him from a military career. It turned out the place wasn't filled with wounded soldiers (they go to places like Walter Reed in DC), but with smokers who had emphysema. At the end of his stint, my son said he still wanted to enlist, but that he would never smoke.

John Craig said...

LBD --
Good for you. I've always hated being around smokers too; if I have to inhale second hand smoke, for some reason I tend to get sick (with a cold) immediately after.

I was so relieved when they banned smoking in public places. by that point it was too late for me, I was past the age where I would have wanted to go out to bars to meet women. But even when I was young, I avoided those places just because of the smoke. I suppose in a way, my dislike of smoke saved me from becoming a drinker.

The four times I've gone to Europe in the past 18 years, I've noticed that people over there still smoke a lot, which has always detracted from my vacations there. It's as if they haven't yet discovered that smoking causes cancer.

(Did you get my email?)

LBD said...

I don't think cancer is that big a scare. Most smokers don't get lung cancer, and smokers are nothing if not gamblers. Most diehard smokers say things like, "Everyone dies of something". Lung cancer has historically been a short time from diagnosis to death, and comports with smokers' self image as a rebel.

What they do not enjoy contemplating is emphysema, because with that disease there is no clear cut line, but a gradual loss of function and incrase of pain. You also don't get the choice of accepting or refusing treatment, since the onset is often gradual and you don't really get the opportunity to " pull the plug". It's a disease of dependency, not rebellion. If emphysema were more publicized it might have more persuasive power than the specter of cancer.

John Craig said...

LBD --
Smoking in the movies has historically meant one of two things, either Glamorous (think Marlene Dietrich blowing smoke into the air) or Badass (think Marlon Brando or Jean Paul Belmondo with the cigarette drooping out of his mouth). And "everyone dies of something) fits with the badass, fatalistic, tough self-image.

Emphysema sucks. And personally, I wouldn't even want my wind/lung capacity compromised. Plus, isn't it supposed to hurt your sexual capacity? That's an angle that should be pushed harder.

Look at the last line of the comment before yours. Yes, I did get your address, and wrote. It's probably in your spam box or something.

Anonymous said...

I checked out an article, the amount of cigarettes smoked on your health is not linear.
I've been trying to figure out if smoking more damages you linearly or exponentionally, but I just read now smoking 3-5 cigarettes a day has 70% the same effects of smoking 25 a day. I am skeptical though of these claims, it almost seems like they are saying smoke 20 a day if you will bother doing it. Like a cigarette company funded this research to "discourage" people from smoking lightly, they will just go ahead and smoke 20 since 30% is not a big enough trade off to get them to cut back to a fraction.

I mean, is 4 cigarettes a day really over 2/3rds the damage of 25? I have trouble believing that. Common sense would tell me smoking 6x more does more than 6x the damage since it builds up and overwhelms your body even more, it would be exponential.


John Craig said...

Ga --
One would think but who knows? Maybe it's a matter of, once some of the alveoli are closed, the others don't suffer as much damage, or once some of the lung surface tissue has tar coated on it, further tar doesn't do that much more damage. I have no idea.

Bryce Walat said...

I work for a health insurance company, and we offer various and sundry "wellness" programs to employers who have our insurance.

There are many incentives that employers can offer to get participation in these programs. The ones that work the best are ones where employees can reduce their premiums or get cash for taking part/meeting certain goals such as being tobacco free/signing up for a quit program.

Conversely, the ones that involve prizes, like FitBits or iPads, get the worst participation.

John Craig said...

Bryce --
That makes sense. Money is always a great incentive.

Come to think of it, some people will kill for it.

Anonymous said...

More about China, I know you hate cigarettes,'s one of the last few places where you can smoke indoors, they have the same smoking permissiveness of the 50s.

I went to China once for 3 weeks (one of which was a summer sister school exchange with 9 other classmates), my host family brought me to a dinner party. They hand out packets, even cartons of absurdly expensive cigarettes, some costing up to 40USD a pack, all weird looking like this:
and I was expected to smoke to show my manliness and I did, they also had me drink (okay I was a teen and felt cool I could, but seriously China?).

China has a culture of "gift giving", if you think bribes like gold club memberships or steak dinners among senators are bad, imagine giving 1 cartons of cigarettes worth 4,000 USD and bottles of liquor worth 12,000 to a civil servant, not a congressman but a civil servant.
Also the seem to love Pabst Blue Ribbon:,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636.jpg

They are very lax with drinking and smoking laws, the sister school I went to had an Irishman who taught English for their honors classes, he also ran a pub and served his students booze and irish food when my classmates and our respective host students went there.

1/3rd of the worlds smokers live in China, the subsidiary companies sponsor schools and more. Foreign brands are limited and almost impossible to get outside big cities, they have a state run holding company that is a monopoly which funds the government directly.
They tax the cigarettes and each pack you buy makes the government money. Why would they do this? Population control?


John Craig said...

Ga --
I've never been to China, though I grew up partially in Japan. But I can imagine.

I wonder if the Chinese are attracted to Pabst Blue Ribbon because of the name (implying, the very best). The Japanese have traditionally been that way, when they went on their buying spree in the US in the early 1980's they only wanted the most prestigious names: Pebble Beach, Rockefeller Center, etc. I've heard that Chinese tourists who come here are interested in seeing things like Harvard University, and have little interest in seeing natural wonders or historic sites.

Anonymous said...

The liberals and Europeans snub their noses at the USA, but look at China.

Zifu Gwong Wing
To seek wealth, Glory!
Deng Xiaoping

It's not saying "be a self made man! You can do it!" by wealth he means the appearance.
China is a classical fascist state.
Definition before Nazi Germany/Fascist Italy:
"A single party state with a mixed economy and a goal self sufficiency through combing both national and international foreign policy."

Sounds like 21st century China, doesn't it? I would call them classical/paleo-fascists to distinguish it.

The Chinese have a culture of "Face" to explain the addiction to prestige. It's ingrained. It's outdated and backwards. Prestige is an easy way to increase "face". People tend to forget other countries have different cultures and make mistakes, the Chinese assume the places to go are the other countries big shows of prestige than the real deals.

Everybody in China wants to appear affluent. They don't care about earning it big for accomplishment, they just want to access more luxury goods to flaunt. In Hong Kong, our richest guy Li Ka Shing still wears a high quality but plain watch a decade old and lives in his same large house he had when younger, this would be unheard of in China.

Hell if I were a billionaire, sure I would indulge myself but not with anything frivolous. A 200 dollar steak is different from a 5 dollar steak, but spending 20000 dollars on gold encrusted toilet paper is no different than store brand. The latter is not indulgence, it's futility.

This is what they meant I finally realize by vainglory and "futility". This culture of prestige and face, is not a narcissistic one, not pride, but vainglory and is a sin of "futility" rather than egotisticalism. Pabst Blue Ribbon's name being it is spot on.

Fortunately when I travelled in China our tourguide was a young guy in his mid 20s, chain smoker, cracked jokes and spoke fluent informal english. He knew his shit. He took us to the real places we should see.


John Craig said...

Ga --
Interesting. I'd never thought of the Chinese in that light before, but I guess it's true. it sort of explains their tastes and art, too, which run to the gaudy, since gaudy = show-offy.