In the dramatic opening scene of the 2005 movie "Lord of War," actor Nicolas Cage is standing in a sea of military shell casings.
The movie is loosely based upon the life of Viktor Bout, an arms smuggler known as the "Merchant of Death."
"There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation," says Cage. "That's one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?"
Now, picture the executives of global tobacco companies standing in a river of cigarettes.
There are 9 billion people on this planet, and an estimated 1.3 billion of them smoke cigarettes. Their goal: To make smokers out of the other 7.7 billion.
Last week, Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen suggested we should require tobacco companies to put a photo of their CEO on each pack of cigarettes.
Perhaps with the title, "Merchant of death."
While the photo idea isn't going to fly, federal health officials last week unveiled plans to replace the warnings on packages of cigarettes with graphic images of cancer patients and cancerous organs.
Disgusting? Absolutely. But also effective.
The photo warnings have been used in several other countries and have resulted in declines in youth smoking.
A variety of photos would be used, ranging from a toe tag on a corpse to a man smoking through a hole in his throat. There are 36 images and they will be rotated on each brand.
Researchers have found that the graphic images leave a lasting impression on young people, while the word warnings are easily disregarded.
This may be particularly true in a world where televised ads for pharmaceutical drugs are all accompanied by a litany of possible side effects.
Death and disability are not possible side-effects of smoking, they are nearly assured outcomes. The current warnings have simply lost their punch.
The photo images are intended to say one thing: The slender white object you are putting between your lips is a death stick.
Smoking is responsible for 443,000 deaths annually in the U.S., and about one-third of all cancer deaths.
Since 1964, the U.S. has made steady progress against youth smoking. In recent years, however, that progress has leveled off with one in five adults and older teens smoking.
Meanwhile, tobacco companies have globalized their efforts. Worldwide, cigarette sales are increasing by 2 percent per year.
Billboards for Marlboros are now banned in the U.S., but they dot the landscape and appear on television in many developing countries. The Indonesian government collects $2.5 billion annually in excise taxes from Phillip Morris alone, according to the New York Times.
Third world countries find it hard to kick the tobacco-revenue habit.
The U.S. could do the rest of the world a favor by also requiring that any pack of cigarettes leaving this country contain the same graphic warning we see in the U.S.