I must confess, I never paid a great deal of attention to the warning messages and disclaimers that adorned packaging in Japan until 1972, when tobacco companies first got around to printing health warnings on packs of cigarettes. This was six years after the practice was adopted in the U.S., and the warning was so feeble as to be laughable. It read, 「健康のため吸いすぎに注意しましょう」 ("Kenkō no tame, suisugi ni chūi shimashō," "For the good of your health, be careful not to smoke too much").

Japan, it seemed, was always playing catch-up, but from 2005 it began to give its warnings real bite, such as 「喫煙は、あなたにとって肺がんの原因の一つとなります。疫学的な推計によると、喫煙者は肺がんにより死亡する危険性が非喫煙者に比べて約2倍から4倍高くなります」 ("Kitsuen wa, anata ni totte haigan no genin no hitotsu to narimasu. Ekigakuteki-na suikei ni yoru to, kitsuensha wa haigan ni yori shibō suru kikensei ga hi-kitsuensha ni kurabete yaku nibai kara yonbai takaku narimasu," "Smoking can be one cause of lung cancer. According to epidemiological estimates, the danger of lung cancer for smokers compared with non-smokers is two to four times higher").

For better or worse, our modern existence has become chock-full of such cautionary messages.