Dispatch From Turkey

You notice right away that the cigarette packages look different in Turkey. At first, you might just see that they’re mostly black. And then that they have photos on them. But get a closer look at the photos, and you see that they’re rather disturbing. And sometimes graphic.

They depict the kinds of damage that tobacco can do to your body. One is just a mild, slightly amusing photo of a young couple in bed looking frustrated, combined with a warning that smoking affects your virility. Others, however, depict lungs, jaws and gums horribly eaten away by years of heavy tobacco indulgence. These images have been required on cigarette packaging by Turkish law since 2010 (Turkey is one of several nations to have adopted such requirements).

The interesting thing is that about time I began noticing these in Istanbul, I also got word from the U.S. that there had been another in the endless, steady series of school shootings — this one in a little town in Texas. And into my mind popped a modest proposal: why not require the same kind of packaging for firearms? Mandate that the stock of every assault weapon be adorned with a photo of massacred children. Not their smiling cherubic school portraits, but a graphic crime scene photo show little bodies ripped apart by bullets and splattered with blood. If you’re going to allow such deadly implements to be sold (and there’s no way it ever will be otherwise in MAGAmerica), at least make their owners own the harvest they help sow.

When I (only half facetiously) put forth such a suggestion, a friend commented that maybe it wouldn’t be fair to give gun owners the same treatment as smokers. Because while every cigarette hurts someone, only a small percentage of assault rifles ever will. To this I replied that an even smaller percentage of nuclear warheads will hurt someone. Now this may not be literally true if you actually examine the math, but you get the point: potentially, at least, a single gun can do a lot more harm, and much more quickly, than a single cigarette — and a bomb vastly more so. Furthermore, the effects of a single cigarette are infinitesimal; damage wrought by smoking is protracted, whereas the damage wrought by high-powered weaponry is immediate if not instantaneous.

And unlike cigarettes, which mostly just harm the user, guns are made specifically to harm other people. Yes, tobacco harms other people too, at least indirectly. Not just as far as second-hand smoke, which can be prevented easily enough, but to the extent that when one contracts cancer, especially of a terminal variety, there is an impact on one’s loved ones. But this is also true with the consequences of other reckless self-indulgence, such as overeating, excessive drinking, or not wearing a bike helmet. Firearms are the one product manufactured and sold under the expectation, or at least the fantasy, of wreaking death and destruction.

I’ve always held that pop culture does a tremendous disservice by glossing over the consequences of violent behavior. British horror writer Clive Barker, who was once criticized for the goriness of his work, responded that violence such as he traffics in is not what’s harmful. What’s harmful, he said, is the kind of violence such as in Star Wars when Luke gets his hand chopped off, then gets it replaced with an artificial replica, and ends up being just as good as new. That, he said, conveys the message that violence leaves no permanent side effects.

In the movies, the good guy whips out his shiny six-shooter, dispatches the bad guy — who obligingly falls dead promptly — in a single shot (or maybe three, the magic number), then, after cutting another notch on his handle, rides off into the sunset toward a good night’s sleep. In the real world, it’s never that neat and clean. Fatal gunshot victims often take hours, days or weeks to die. The movies don’t reveal their suffering, the suffering of their loved ones, or (take note, NRA crowd) the perennial anguish often experienced by the shooter.

As for possible infringement of civil liberties, we already know that the “constitutional right” to own a gun is a mythical beast. And the kind of legislation I’m talking about wouldn’t even necessarily restrict ownership. It would just provide a constant reminder to those who insist on playing with deadly weapons about what those toys are capable of.

Would it be effective? Who knows? Certainly there would be all kinds of efforts to circumvent the measure. In Turkey, there was a boom in sales of cigarette cases, to keep the ghastly images concealed. A similar product might be marketed for the AR-15. And the packaging definitely hasn’t put an end to smoking altogether — the Turks are inveterate tobacco lovers, just as Americans are inveterate gun lovers, and probably always will be.

Still, when it comes to a product with the unique deadly capability of assault weapons, wouldn’t it be… well, worth a shot?


    • By my logic, “pro-life” demagogues should have the doors of their offices or homes adorned with the photos of women and girls who die form botched back-alley abortions.

  1. Yes cigarettes do not harm everyone, just like guns, but how about requiring each smoker to play Russian roulette with a six shooter, leaving just one round in its chamber, which would more aptly represent the dangers involved. Those of us who smoke, began as the result of peer pressure and the idea that they make us cool. I’m not sure of the statistics but I think many more smokers (do not die) of cancer or some other serious malady brought on by smoking. Yet every smoker is playing Russian roulette while knowing they are doing something very dangerous. So yes, eventually that became reason enough to require warnings on each pack, and while some may quit, prior to that, we produced homes full of smoke residues on the walls and on everyone else’s clothing. So the only way not to harm others might be to smoke only in a house half a mile away from other human beings. However if addicts are given chewing gum containing nicotine or else given nicotine patches to help them quit, there is a chance that they might win the battle of addiction—just as some gun advocates might become willing to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of people who might use them to kill.

    I smoked heavily for 22 years, chain smoking all day long and leaving ashtrays full of butts and tar each time. I tried to quit cold turkey several times but to no avail. During the first day I became so irritable that I felt like I was goose stepping around my apartment to deal with the loss of my crutch. However the three month nicotine step down patch down worked–I was amazed! So yes, perhaps we should leave photos showing the ugly realities that automatics weapons might create!

    Many gun culture people seem to be clinging to something that has the potential not just to kill themselves, but to kill many others in a short period of time. What makes mass shootings so ugly and dangerous is that they come out of nowhere, often for no reason and may strike while someone is watching a movie, eating in a café, attending a sporting event, attending a large concert, in court rooms, on the Main streets of our home towns, visiting a night club, on a military base, and even at the churches of our choice. Of course more and more mass shootings take place each year, compared to many many more guns, used in street fights, murders, and during armed robberies etc. But the gun culture is mistaken when using the relativley low numbers of mass shootings to somehow making the latter not as important, even though ALL gun deaths are tragic, including suicides and kids who shoot up their High Schools because their parents were negligent–for not locking their guns away securely whenever their kids are out of their sight. So one must wonder why large mass shootings, so brutal and unforeseen, are sometimes cast as no big deal because the great majority of shootings are not mass shootings? Yes, there are many more deaths that are not mass shootings, but how about passing laws, that might prevent many guns from being used to kill other human beings? Dealers seem to have washed their hands of the very many heart wrenching tragedies that their products produce yet are completely ignored by insisting that AR-15 kill thousands of people each year, So hey!–more than 20 million people died in WW2, not to mention countless numbers of people who lost their limbs and became invalids overnight. So why not end at least some of the deaths that result from military style weapons being used to commit mass murders? AR-15s kill much less than the Tens of thousands of other gun deaths’ each year. And unlike approving of seat belts, automatic brakes, power steering, and rear view cameras, etc. etc. gunsters insist that 30+ round magazine, and even hundred round magazines, body armor, and bullets that go three times faster than regular ammunition is leaving more and more chidren severely maimed or dead with huge rips in their bones and organs which have been described by cops as road kill!

    The numbers don’t matter, all innocent children are shot or maimed in similar ways because conservatives have chosen to play the numbers game, in order to be elected with millions of dollars and a pledge to the NRA not to take real steps to end gun violence. Yes, we will probably never be able to end mass shootings completely, but we can save many thousands of lives, by simply giving a damn and by objecting to being controlled by the mega large gun lobbies which has been way too eager to put money in the bank of those who run Phillip Morris etc.

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