As if the Surgeon General's warning on every pack of cigarettes weren't enough, the FDA has now proposed large graphic labels to alert people to the dangers of smoking. The labels will include comments such as "Smoking can kill you" and "Cigarettes cause cancer", along with cheery visual images like a mother blowing smoke in her baby's face and rotting, diseased gums. As the FDA Commissioner explains, "[s]ome very explicit, almost gruesome pictures may be necessary".
What's next - labels on alcoholic beverages that read "Drinking causes liver failure", along with pictures of a drunk mother backing over her baby in a car? Warnings for butcher knives with lacerated throats or severed heads pictured on them? "This could be you!" Is this the so-called moral high ground that anti-smoking advocates think they have? Scaring people into giving up smoking?
Patrick Reynolds, the executive director of the Foundation for a Smokefree America, says in the article that "[t]his is going to stop kids from starting to smoke... and it's going to give smokers a strong incentive to quit smoking". I'm not sure I agree. In a generation full of violent and gory video games, these labels probably won't mean shit to kids. Smokers are aware of the risks and they choose to smoke anyway, so pretending that these new measures will give them a "strong incentive to quit" is just plain naive, in my opinion.
But my biggest problem with this announcement is that it's another shining example of our federal government playing the role of moral crusader. Government's job should be preserving personal freedoms, not stripping them away under the guise of protecting 'the greater good' of healthy living. We don't need freedom to make smart choices that are generally considered good, we need freedom to make choices that are controversial and - dare I say - stupid. This is especially important with regard to what we choose to do with our own bodies, which is no one's business but our own.
I'll tell you one thing though: if these offensive labels make it into production, I will be buying and smoking my first pack of cigarettes in over six years. These labels may not be forcing anyone to quit, but through decades of taxation, aggressive campaigning, and labeling, smoking has become the favored whipping boy of all dangerous habits. I would rather take that risk and retain my freedom of choice than avoid the risk and lose that autonomy.