In July, Health Canada released proposed health warnings that would appear on cigarette packages. The images were stark and meant to display the myriad health risks that come with tobacco use. One showed an image of a woman with an ostomy pouch, and reads smoking can lead to colorectal cancer.
“You may need to use a bag as a toilet for the rest of your life,” it warns.
I first saw the ostomy image on Rachel at Rocking 2 Stomas’ Twitter feed. Later, Jessica at Uncover Ostomy called on the government and the Minister of Health to remove the image from circulation and apologize.
The efforts worked, and Health Canada announced via Twitter that the ostomy will not be included in the official rollout of the new warnings.
Related: Ostomy advocates oppose CDC's latest anti-smoking campaign calling it ‘offensive and dangerous’
There are mixed feelings about this.
The ostomy label is one of 39 new health warnings being workshopped and focus-grouped across the country. They’re a new spin on the older labels — warnings that have been proven effective in deterring people from tobacco use.
The Toronto Star states that the new warnings are meant to show real people suffering from the problems caused by smoking. The Star also states that youth smokers who had seen the new labels were previously unaware that colorectal cancer could be caused by smoking. In short, early tests show these labels are effective. And they’re not inconsistent with Canada’s public health aims.
Get ready, because I’m about to give you a breakdown on Canadian health policy.
Public health is a Canadian value. Our healthcare system is, for the most part, publicly administrated. In Canada, you’re much more likely to see a public health advertisement on television than an ad for prescription medicine. It’s because our healthcare system is not primarily motivated by profit that prevention makes up a large portion of the country’s policy.
Curbing tobacco use has been a tenet of Canada’s health law strategy for a few decades now. The federal government attempted to pass a ban on all tobacco advertising in the country in 1995. Ten years later, a law in British Columbia was passed that allowed the province to sue tobacco companies to recover the costs of healthcare incurred by illnesses resulting from tobacco use.
What I’m saying is, the War on Tobacco is not new and it’s not going to end anytime soon.
For many, life with an ostomy is a very real fear. It was a fear of mine when I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Even if my fear was misplaced, that doesn’t make it any less real. Tapping into that fear is effective, whether we like it or not.
Of course, I’m living my best life with an ostomy and I love sharing that on my social media. Last month, Aerie released a new campaign featuring models with different abilities which included Gaylyn Henderson of Gutless and Glamorous. Stigma around ostomies will continue to exist but if these stigmas can be countered with positive representation, maybe things will start to change.
In the meantime, people who use tobacco do run the risk of needing an ostomy. Seeing an image of an ostomy is more tangible than a picture of a diseased colon. So personally, I see nothing wrong with it. Other people feel differently.
(Side note: The ostomy pouch in the image is WAY TOO FULL. I think that’s the real travesty here.)