After my original post about the court case between tobacco companies and the US Government, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the court’s decision. The news hit last month [BBC] with the appeals court in Washington ruling that “The US government cannot force tobacco firms to put large graphic health warnings on cigarette packages“. I was very pleased with the result because it’s the position I took in my post 12 months ago – a government has no right forcing a company to market it’s products towards it’s financial ruin. Whether you’re a pro, anti, or couldn’t care less about smoking – this case is important because it is really about freedom of speech, capitalism, and especially with the US election coming up – size of government.
My initial post was mainly about how the evidence behind these graphic labels is really not very compelling. My off-the-cuff theory for these labels being poorly effective is that people already know smoking is so unhealthy, so the people who are still smoking or are taking it up, really aren’t going to be dissuaded by yet another grotesque plea to the heartstrings. There’s just an element of society that doesn’t give a damn. Some also see smoking as exercising their own free will. In debates past I’ve heard the argument, “Well some people sky dive, or punch each other in the head for a living, this is my thing – just leave me be”. A favourite quote of mine on this subject is Kurt Vonnegut’s,
Cigarettes are a classy way to commit suicide.
In any case, peoples’ reasoning aside – there is just something completely wrong about a government forcing it’s propaganda on privatized companies. The government already has the biggest pulpit in the market place – they can bang their drum the loudest and put as many public service announcements as their budget allows. In Canada, there really isn’t even an argument about this whole thing – never mind a federal court case. My opinion on the topic is that if a government wanted to spend more money on anti-smoking advertisements, banners, even posters in the convenience stores where cigarettes are sold – that’s great. And I’d rather make tobacco products illegal before forcing companies to put pictures of dead bodies on their packaging. The court said, the law was “making every single pack of cigarettes in the country a mini billboard for the government’s anti-smoking message“, and I couldn’t agree more.
The only part of the article that I didn’t find particularly convincing is that the “FDA has not provided a shred of evidence” that the images would directly advance its policy aimed at reducing the number of smokers in America“. I’m surprised the FDA didn’t even attempt to present compelling evidence that this policy is effective. I know in my searching I found several articles that said people were slightly more likely to quit, and less likely to start smoking with these labels.
The science is besides the point – the labels are simply an ill-conceived idea. Public hangings of smokers and tobacco farmers would also be a big deterrent, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
This news comes on the heels of the Australian government ruling that cigarette packs will have no corporate branding or logos. The boxes will look something like this
Different directions, but I just don’t believe that governments are doing the right thing. There is no talk of banning cigarettes. Governments are terrified, hiding behind these awful images because they don’t have the backbone. Do politicians see it as a divisive issue? Or are they afraid cigarettes will go black market and they’ll loose all the tax revenue they gleam from the sale of these filthy little sticks.