The government introduced plain cigarette packaging on 1 December 2012, although the graphic pictures have been on the packs for a while.
Over the last few weeks, several smokers have told me “You know that skinny guy on the cigarette packs died of AIDS, not lung cancer and now his family are suing the government “(or sometimes it is the tobacco companies).
That story sounded a bit suspect to me, a rumour made up to try and deny that these illnesses can be caused by smoking. So I did a bit of research.
The man on the packets is Bryan Curtis. He was from St Petersburg in the US. He had been smoking since he was 13, building up to two packs a day. On 2 April 1999, at 33 he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that attacked his lungs and liver. He died on 3 June 1999.
The story is well documented in the St Petersburg Times. There is no mention of AIDS.
The only reference to him having AIDS, come from comments on sites where people say “He died of AIDS not lung cancer, the government is conning us” and similar things.
But to believe the rumour they are several leaps of faith you have to make.
You have to believe that the government would not have thoroughly researched the illness of a person whose image they were going to use AND they would have used it without permission of the family.
You would have to believe that the family would sue the government and not ask for an interim injunction to have his image not used while the case is decided.
And you would have to believe that such a law suit could take place without any of the mainstream media (or ANY media) realising up that such a high-profile case was underway.
And of course you also have to ignore all of the stories from credible news sources that say he died of lung cancer and overlook the fact that none of them mention AIDS.
There is a YouTube video about Bryan, which uses much of the material from the St Petersburg Times article.
One of the comments was from an Australian claiming he knows Bryan died of AIDS because the government is being sued etc. He wrote “If you don’t believe me, look it up.” Which is what I did, and found no evidence to support his claim.
I pointed him to the story I had found and asked if he any reference to back up his claim. At this point he suggested that since “I believe what I’ve seen and heard” we should “agree to disagree”.
Some people are happy to blindly believe in something in the absence of proof, but I have never found it a virtue. As Daniel Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”