Wednesday, November 10, 2010

FDA Introduces New Graphic Labels for Cigarettes

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.

1 comment:

  1. While I do agree with your underlying message (that people should be able to choose what they do to their own bodies), there are three points which you might be a little off on:

    1. I don't see how having graphic pictures on cigarette packs limits a person's freedom to smoke said cigarettes. I see it as only slightly worse than simply stating the fact 'smoking can cause cancer'; the thing making it worse being that it is attempting to play on emotions rather than reason (which might be more effective).

    2. The comparison with alcohol might be a valid one, but the comparison to a butcher's knife isn't. The difference I see is that if you use a butcher's knife in the appropriate way, you won't be injured. The same isn't true of alcohol and cigarettes; it is the intended usage of them that is the cause of potential harm. (That is more nitpicking that anything else).

    3. I think, to some extent, it is other's business what we do with our bodies if our choice impedes them in some way. To what extent it is their business is entirely up for debate and depending on how much our choice affects them. The example I would give in the case of smoking would be the 'societal cost' of smokers; the otherwise avoidable medical, personal and emotional expenses. That argument carries more weight in Australia, as we have full public healthcare, so it is society who does end up footing the bill, but I still think it does carry some weight over in the US.

    On a personal note, I don't really understand smoking tobacco at all. I have smoked; I did infrequently for a year or two. From my experience, it has been an almost nothing change to my mental state (I would put in somewhere between cup of coffee and Red Bull, as far as effectiveness goes). It just seems to me like such a large, long term risk for such little short term returns.

    That being said, I fully acknowledge the possibility that my brain chemistry is probably less affected by nicotene, thus leading to my low ranking of the 'high' it causes. I respect each individuals right to make their own choice; I just won't ever really understand it.