BY CHARLES MEMMINGER – (Bloomberg) — Images of a corpse and cancerous lungs are among nine graphic warnings that tobacco companies led by Altria Group Inc. must start placing on cigarette packs sold in the U.S. next year. The labels, required under a tobacco law to convey the health effects of smoking, also include pictures of rotting teeth and a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his neck.
It was a drizzly morning in Honolulu’s Chinatown when I ducked into a rundown mom and pop store to pick up a pack of cancer sticks.
“Marlboros,” I said to the old man behind the counter.
“What kine?” he said. “Da one wit’ da black, seeping lungs or da buggah who stay smoking through da hole in his neck?”
“The ‘Lites’,” I said. “The pack with the dead dude on it.”
The old man checked my ID, which was weird since I’m 84 years old, before forking over the pack of coffin nails appropriately decorated with a photo of some zombie in a coffin complete with coffin nails.
I lit my first cigarette of the day on the sidewalk, shielding it against the rain and sucked in a nice lungful of restorative smoke. Ah. Now all I needed was a cup of java.
I climbed into a taxi, coughing through a dense cloud of muffler exhaust. Man, I thought, they ought to put a picture of a dead guy on the side of cabs. He dropped me off at McDonald’s and I wandered in and perused the menu above the counter. I had just wanted coffee but seeing photos of all the delicious the entrees made me a little hungry. What to get? The Portuguese sausage and eggs next to a picture of a guy clutching his chest in cardiac arrest looked pretty tasty. So did the Egg McMuffin next to an enlarged photo of a blocked artery. I decided to just go with a side order of hash browns . In the menu photo they looked crispy and delicious, clutched as they were in the beefy hand of a 600 pound woman fused into a sofa breathing oxygen through a hose to her nose. The counter girl slid the tray with my cup’a joe and taters to me and with a chirpy “Enjoy!” A photo taking up one half of the cardboard coffee cup showed a guy who looked like a crack addict suffering from a petit mal seizure shakily pouring coffee down his gullet.
I sat in a plastic booth enjoying my breakfast as a mom and her little girl walked by. The mom was holding a “Happy Meal” box decorated with several grossly fat diabetic children while her daughter toyed with an action figure doll of Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, with one hand on her hip and the other wagging an index finger in disapprobation at the world.
My cell phone rang as I walked into my downtown office. I flipped it open and was greeted by digital wallpaper showing a surgeon cutting an enormous cancerous lump from the exposed brain of patient on an operating table. The caller was a client confirming our lunch meeting at a local watering hole.
I sat down at my desk, put my feet up and put the laptop computer in my lap, the most comfortable position from which to peruse the Internet and easy on the wrists. The last thing I wanted was Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. When I opened the laptop the 17-inch screen flickered to life showing the usual photo of an enlarged cancerous scrotum apparently brought on by too much radiation from the laptop. I had tried to change the screensaver from the enlarged scrotum to a picture of a forest scene with a babbling brook but the scrotum apparently was a mandatory part of the hardware and kept returning. I took my feet off the desk and shifted the computer to the desk top. Carpal Tunnel ain’t that bad.
After a few hours of paying the bills I noticed it had stopped raining. So I wandered down to “Kimo’s Bar and Girl” for lunch. My buddy was already in a booth with a beer and a girl. The beer was a Bud Lite. I could tell because you could see the photo of a bloody dead guy sticking halfway out of a crashed car windshield from ten feet away. Regular Budweiser had a picture of a pickup truck smashing into a nun in a crosswalk. I sat down and told the girl to hit the road. She pouted and then walked away, sashaying in her tight, body-hugging dress which had a picture of a divorce lawyer on the back.
I ordered a Coors – the one with the elk hunter in Colorado accidentally blowing his head off with his shotgun – and a three fingers of Maker’s Mark bourbon which came in a shot glass with a photo of a diseased liver that looked like a punctured football.
I could hear the rain start again outside as we clinked our drinks together.
“It’s a wonderful life!” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Even though nobody gets outta here alive.”