Images of death

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Bryan Curtis was an American citizen, living in Florida, who started smoking at age 13. When the father of two boys was 33 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died within 10 weeks. Wanting others to benefit from his awful fate, he asked that young children be shown images of how shriveled his body had become as the cancer took hold. Reporter Sue Landry from Florida’s St Petersburg Times published an article on Bryan, ‘before and after’ images of the healthy young man at 33, and the wasted wreck of a man 10 weeks later just before he passed away. These two images are now printed on the packets of cigarettes in Australia.

Read Sue Landry’s full article to find out more. Please be aware that some people may find the images in this article disturbing, as Bryan Curtis is shown during the final stages of his illness.

Leaving a legacy

It has been a long week when you think about death and dying. First, the ghastly and incomprehensible slaughter of innocent children in an American school – along with the teachers who tried in vain to protect them. This was counterbalanced by a warm and dignified farewell to the great dame – Dame Elizabeth Murdoch who taught our society that there is no end to the good you can do when you give. Whilst the life and example of 103-year old Dame Elizabeth is uplifting, there is little, if nothing, we can take from the Newtown massacre that might be seen as a positive. Even in the unlikely event that America introduces stricter gun laws, it is hard to conclude that the death of so many children and teachers was worth this achievement. But there is someone whose unexpectedly early demise has bequeathed a powerful message to help others avoid the same fate, and that is American mechanic, Bryan Curtis, who passed away from lung cancer in 1999. Diagnosed earlier that year, the robustly healthy 33-year-old lasted just 10 weeks. His wish, before he died, was to share his story of 20 years of smoking two packets a day, to help others understand the dangers of smoking.

His mother contacted journalist Sue Landy of the St Petersburg Times and since then his story has gone around the world. And now it is in Australia, with images of the healthy young man, and his dying self 10 weeks later, staring out from packets of cigarettes. The contrast is horrible – a man in the prime of life, reduced to a shell of a human, whose soul already seems to have left his body. But whilst we all generally want to say, enough, let’s look at something more positive and uplifting, the courage of Bryan and his mother needs to be applauded – as does the courage of those at the Department of Health who decided to use these images to discourage those who find it difficult to quit smoking.

As we have learnt from the Newtown killings this week, life is random and we cannot automatically assume we will have years ahead of us. So we know it is important to ‘carpe diem’ and make the most of every day. But for those hooked on a life-threatening habit such as smoking, the first way of seizing the day surely has to be to stop that habit immediately. The image of Bryan is simply awful – but the effect it will have may prove to be something of great beauty indeed.

What do you think? Are these images too awful to show? Or are they important in the fight against tobacco addiction and lung cancer?

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Written by Kaye Fallick

46 Comments

Total Comments: 46
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    Excellent and brave article Kaye. If this one young man’s death prevents just one young person from taking up this vile habit the images of his suffering will have been worthwhile.

    I saw my father, he had smoked from his youth, in dreadful pain from the arteries closing in his legs due to cigarettes. He went in to hospital to have his toes removed, 8 months later after agony beyond description and almost weekly operations to save something for him of his legs, he went home a double amputee. He fought back, got artificial legs which he could use for a few years, then was totally confined to a wheelchair. Even then the wretched tobacco was not finished tormenting him, he died of lung cancer with secondaries in his liver. That was not a pretty sight either.

    What shocked me was, over the months I went in daily to visit and encourage him, younger men were battling having lost just one leg. Their lungs so damaged they could hardly breath, several died.

    When I see a young person smoking I so want to go and tell them – stop, you have no idea where this could lead, but would they listen, no, probably give me a mouthful of cheek. So I just pass sadly by. It is not called the evil weed for no reason. I applaud this government for having had the courage to stand up to the tobacco company bullies. They have set an example for the world.

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    Shock tactics might impact a small percentage to rethink smoking habits, particularly those who have been personally affected by the diseases attributed to smoking; unfortunately the change tends to be short lived.
    A greater success will be for Health Promotion, starting with the very young. Kindergarten is not too early, continuing through schooling.
    Messages in the past such as Slip, Slop, Slap, The Healthy Food Pyramid when initiated in early education have been effective, particularly when enhanced by family role models. It is a lengthy process but a more effective outcome.

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    Show the image. If it stop one person from dying like that it will be worth it. Even his mother looks far older then her 57 years. What saddens me is when young people say it only happens when you’re 60 or 70. Well even when they get to that age you still don’t want to die like that. Another thing not realised is that there are far more horrible chemicals in cigarettes today then there used to be. It really is a terrible addiction. Anything that can be done to stop this terrible scourge, should be done. And smokers, I really do sympathise with you.

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    I have never in my life seen anything as stupid and unnatural as seeing someone standing there with smoke coming out of his nose and mouth, or an adult drinking milk and showing the world he still suckles from his surrogate mum, the cow!

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    There is a social history about smoking which ties it to current generations – the surgeon general in the US advising that cigarettes were an invaluable source of stress relief for soldiers during WW1 which saw a massive increase in cigarette production and availability which expanded and was reinforced though WW2. Subsequent generations are surrounded by a landscape of established social acceptance and where for kids, smoking is so easily aligned with the presumed manly deeds and heroism of war, reinforced by Hollywood and the media, so I can understand how it is that people choose to smoke especially as kids and fall into addiction.

    Best advice to help those wishing to quit:

    STOP SMOKING

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      scicdb Yes you are absolutely correct. A friend, or was she, told my mother, when she was young, to get my father to take up smoking, as it was “good for the nerves” – she spent the rest of her life till smoking killed him regretting having taken that “friend’s” advice.

      No though people know the risks.

      I suspect the tobacco companies are behind and probably funding the film and tv makers to have actors and actresses smoking as it seems to be ever increasing. Probably the new way of advertising.

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    “E’ Cigarette, is a new way to give it up. You smoke the “E” cigarette in conjunction with your cigarettes. and gradually have the battery operated “E” smoke a little bit more each day and less of the real ones, until you can just use the artificial one.
    Save youself misery and a horrible death when you are a little older and volnurable. A terrible death. I think you can buy them from Tobacco shops or Super markets, now or ONLINE.

  7. 0
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    Whilst I agree that putting anything other than clean fresh air into your lungs the comments of cigarette packets are scientifically incorrect. Plain packaging and advertising bans have reduced the cost of production – so cigarettes should be cheaper!!
    Smoking does not CAUSE the diseases mentioned – it increases the chances of acquiring the diseases. If it CAUSED the diseases then ALL smokers would get them (which they do not) and non-smokers would not (which they do). So much for truth in advertising!

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      We don’t know whom we not be affected, do we. But its a rotten if its you.
      I’m a none smoker, never have smoked but I’ve been affected all my life from cigarettes. You have no idea what a relief it is to now for me be able to visit clubs, restaurants etc without the fear of having to leave early because I’m struggling to breath. Smokers often have the idea that their smoking only affects them.

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      The fact is that the messages on the packets are scientifically incorrect. Smoking does not CAUSE the diseases mentioned it merely increases the chances of acquiring them.

      Perhaps we should ban or put risk messages around for drinking alcohol/driving cars (sober)/flying/cycling/swimming and all sorts of other activities because it increases the chances of acquiring a medical condition, having an accident and killing, injuring ourselves or others or putting at increased risk ourselves and/or others.

      Do not let the facts get in the way of a good advertising program.

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      Huskie Are you a smoker?

    • 0
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      Huskie. Ok if you want to be petty about it. But you’d have to agree there’d be a lot less people dying of cancer and other diseases if nobody smoked.

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      Nan Norma Huskie’s claims have as much logic as saying if you drive dangerously you may of may not have an accident. If you stand on the edge of a cliff on one leg you may or may not fall.

      The point of the messages on the packet is – don’t put yourself in the way of danger – you tempt fate. Chances are you will die of a preventable illness. Definition of a smoker – fool on one end, fire on the other.

      I agree with you, having suffered asthma there are many places I would unable to go if people still smoked as they did a few decade ago. It triggers asthma so quickly. It is a selfish, foolish habit.

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      Huskie..You also have to have the gene that makes you susceptible to lung cancer, emphysema etc but is it fair to those around you who may have it?. My ex husband recently passed away from Emphysma and his wife died recently from Lung cancer . I have early passive Emphysema and I never smoked. My children all suffered ENT Problems from his smoking so it is not just about the smoker’s health.

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      I agree with Huskie in that smoking predisposes some people to acquire cancer

      I know elderly people of !00+ yeaqrs of age – they smoke like a chimney and do not have cancer – interestingly though they roll their own . could it be something the Cig companies put into their cigaretes that is giving people lung cancer ?

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      Abby Roll your own are just as lethal. My father only ever smoked those he rolled, but it still closed the arteries in his legs and led to double amputation, and his death by lung cancer.

  8. 0
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    The University campus where I wok is now “smoke-free”. It’s a challenge, and it is “self-policing”, but it is supportive and honours our research findings into smoking-related death and disease.

  9. 0
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    For your information Huskie: Passive Emphysema. An imaging technique that allows scientists to see cellular changes at the microscopic level shows that people who have been exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke show early stages of lung damage

    • 0
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      Thank you Nan Norma, Taskid and Min you have proven my point, there are other factors that are causative factors, other than or in addition to tobacco, in acquiring the relevant diseases. Why not identify and target them as well?
      Tobacco is an easy target. What about vehicle exhaust gases, chemicals in food, genetic modifications to food crops, changes to lifestyles, stress, lack of exercise, poor eating habits, the list goes on.

      There was an Oncologist who said “Cancer is an outward sign of inward turmoil”.
      Perhaps that is why it so hard to find a medical cure for it,

      Do not let the facts get in the way of a good advertising program!!

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    The governments of the world are making too much money from smoker’s taxes, so they will not ban cigarette manufacture. If they banned the making of cigarettes they would have to introduce another tax on something that attracts no tax at the moment, or raise the tax on other commodities, eg wines, beer, perfume, soft drinks, et cetera. IF PEOPLE WANT TO SMOKE. LET THEM!!!It is their right to waste their lives. It is their lives they are wasting. They know the risks, and they are paying for the privilege. Please, just don’t smoke near me. It is Nature’s way of population control. There are far and away too many people on Earth as it is. THAT is what is causing Global Warming. Less people, less polution.

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      Way to go! Tax every thing that MAY be harmful or detrimental to health, just remember to put the relevant health warnings on the packaging!!

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      Yes Abe, I agree with you on that one. By all means let the smokers smoke, just not around me. The smokers are addicted so it would be very cruel to just say no smoking at all. Full stop. But lets try to stop the younger generation from smoking. I know people who have stopped smoking only because of the cost. But guess what. . . it was the incentive they needed to give it up and they’re glad they did.
      Isn’t this mans story enough??
      The fact that purely being a passive smoker damages the lungs should be proof enough that smoking is even worse. But your a smoker so you’ll never admit smoking is anything but good. Well good luck. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    • 0
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      Abe, the cost of smoking to the community is far more than the taxes collected. So smoking actually costs us all money.

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