WARNING: In the name of free speech, censor warning labels

Smoking is bad m’kay? I’m calling this travel related because I was blow away by the images I saw on cigarette packages in some of the places I visited in Asia. I used to smoke over a pack a day. I was in a tough place financially and was having some health problems that smoking would have compounded. I quit for a few reasons, but the real deal maker was how much money I had spent over the years on cigarettes. I asked myself a simple question…would I rather have had the ~$7,000 that I had spent on smoking in the last few years, or all the cigarettes I had ever smoked? Making the decision to quit was easy, and I noticed almost immediate rewards. I felt better overall, had more energy, got sick less, and started a little rainy day fund that has allowed me to do some pretty cool stuff. At this point, had I never quit smoking I’d have spent enough on cigarettes to buy a brand new car. Aside from being highly addictive, I wonder how this type of thing becomes accepted by the mainstream. Further than that, I wonder how anyone can defend it with a clear conscience. There’s no debate: Smoking is bad for your wallet and your health…even smokers won’t argue that!

There is no doubt that in may aspects other countries have a ways to go to catch up with us, but it's a strange feeling to be in a third world country while witnessing things that seem so much more ahead of the curve than we are.

I saw the warnings and thought “This is such a great idea, why don’t we have these in America?” Well, after finding out about new legislation being proposed, I don’t have to wonder any more. The FDA is considering a similar label system. You can see the proposed labels for yourself in the link to the FDA site, but I’ve got to say they’re pretty namby-pamby compared to the labels I saw in other countries, and the real threats that people who smoke face. Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and I’m sure other countries portray a much more accurate image of what smoking does to you. So much for being a global leader in this department, but at least we’re making progress.

FDA is seeking public comment on the proposed rule from Friday, November 12, 2010 through Tuesday, January 11, 2011. To submit an official comment during this time period:

* Go to www.regulations.gov and insert docket number FDA-2010-N-0568 into the “search” box and follow the prompts.
* Send a fax, with your comments, to 301-827-6870.
* Mail/Hand delivery/Courier (for paper, disk, or CD-ROM submissions) to the Division of Dockets

Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852.

All comments should be identified by Docket ID No. FDA-2010-N-0568. It is only necessary to send one set of comments.

One aspect of the new proposals that I had not initially considered is the impact on taxes…that’s money that funds good things (then again, money saved because more people will be healthy can also be spent on good things). It seems awfully unfortunate that states will be in a position where they must debate legislature that will will inform the public at the cost of their own income. I’m interested to see where this goes…I just hope that they follow through and do the right thing. I also hope the FDA doesn’t wuss out and require the sunshine and butterflies version of these labels. Time will tell.

As you might expect, the cigarette companies aren’t too happy about this. According to CNN (paraphrased), David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., has said the warnings violate the company’s First Amendment rights of commercial, free speech. “Seizing half of our packaging, devaluing our trademarks, we’re challenging that,” he said.

I’m all for free speech. In fact, I encourage it. I’m not sure why these companies still think it’s the early 1900’s where tobacco use was believed to be harmless. I have a message for the fancy-pants cigarette lawyers and spokespeople: I empathize with your concerns about image, but I hate to be the bearer of bad news…your image sucks because your product sucks. You’re worried about a little label devaluing your trademarks? You should be concerned about the people dying of a variety of cancers and other health related problems…that’s your real brand killer there. Give me a break, the FDA isn’t trying to say smoking will give you AIDS. It’s not as if the public is unaware that your product is unhealthy. You already have an unfair advantage in that your product is addictive, and I know from first-hand experience that people who want to smoke will still smoke even with the warnings (Perhaps because they are hopelessly addicted? Are you worried that people will think twice about picking up that first cigarette?). So my question to you is this: How can you defend free speech while trying to silence an entity attempting to educate the public to the horrors of a bad product?

Then again, if you’re really worried all you have to do is put a picture of this guy on the other side of the cigarettes and I’d bet your sales will instantly double. Heck, just watching this makes me want to smoke…I bet all the girls would want to kiss my ash tray lips if I could do this:

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5 Responses to WARNING: In the name of free speech, censor warning labels

  1. PleasantPhrases says:

    That’s an amazing video, but kind of in the Power Rangers genre.

    You’re right about “It seems awfully unfortunate that states will be in a position where they must debate legislature that will will inform the public at the cost of their own income.” That’s the problem with vice taxes — they actually make it harder for the government to get rid of the problem. For one, adult store business permits cost about $2,000 around here, compared to the $100 I paid for my business permit! At that price, why would they want to get rid of them?

    I like the native guy peeking around the corner of the machine, too!

  2. Legion says:

    I’ll take free speech over warning labels any day. I find it really disconcerting that people have no problem seizing up to 75% of the label space (in Canada) on a cigarette pack to display gruesome imagery. You admit that everyone knows smoking is bad for you, so why do we need to abridge the rights and freedoms of a company to have a label design of its own choosing? And if you truly believe the trade off is fair, then its discriminatory to only be doing this to cigarette companies. Why not images of fatty, diseased livers on liquor bottles? Or how about pictures of clogged arteries and morbidly obese people on McDonald’s fries?

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for your comment. I hope others will respond and offer more public opinion, but I would like to respond to your specific questions.

      I don’t believe that informing the public for the purpose of protecting their health is abridging the rights and freedoms of a company. If high-powered lawyers are able to successfully argue that those rights are being violated, then so what. I would still say that the fundamental rights granted to human health should always outweigh the rights of a non-living for-profit corporation. Ultimately, only living people are equally entitled to those rights…anything without a pulse must accept that they are an inferior entity.

      I also do not see this practice as discriminatory. I agree that french fries, while golden and delicious, can lead to obesity. Ironically, I love french fries. However, let’s not forget that fresh fruits and vegetables can also make you fat…in fact, any and all foods can lead to obesity if you simply eat too much. As a professor at Kansas State University has proven, it’s not the content of the food, but the number of calories consumed. A specific type of food is not the problem, the eating habits of the consumer is the problem. There’s no comparison because there is no such thing as a healthy cigarette; smoking is unequivocally bad for you. Too much smoke won’t make you fat, it will make you dead.

      Besides, even the tastiest of treats are not addictive. I should know, my hometown was once recognized as consuming more HoHo’s per-capital than anywhere else in the country.

      As for alcohol, I think we’re talking about the right ballpark, but it has been shown that there are universally positive health benefits to drinking small amounts infrequently. Although alcohol has the capacity to become addictive, it is possible to drink alcohol without being an alcoholic. There’s no such thing as a ‘responsible smoker’ and a ‘smoke-a-holic.’ I’m not talking about the severity of addiction (for example, chain smokers)…everyone who smokes cigarettes is addicted, and that addiction is extremely strong. I’m sure there are some people who shoot heroin almost constantly…and others who do it less infrequently, but nobody is arguing that any heroin user is not an addict. If you’re going to sell someone a product that is bad for them, the least you can do is educate them enough to let them know what they’re doing. With that all said, you do have a good point: we shouldn’t be trying to isolate cigarettes, we should consider ways to extend similar labeling to other potentially unhealthy practices. I guess you have to start somewhere though. Nobody is saying cigarettes can’t be smoked…if you personally feel good about smoking, what’s wrong with looking past a pesky warning label when you make the purchase and carrying your product in one of those fancy cigarette cases?

      And finally to address your claims of discrimination, the labels will be the same for all companies across the industry. You can’t compare apples to oranges and then suggest the oranges are being discriminated against. Much the same way that all citizens of the United States are required to carry identification (regardless of race, creed, blah blah blah), all cigarette companies will have to display these warnings. Suggesting discrimination is involved is like suggesting that it’s unfair American farm animals don’t have to get a drivers license.

      Cigarette smoking benefits those profiting from the sale while smokers and those exposed to second-hand smoke suffer. Nobody wants to see anyone loose their job, but supplying an addict is a pretty sleazy way to make a living. I don’t think any drug dealer would rather be flipping burgers (or dunking french fries), but it’s in everyone’s best interest if they find another profession. You can guarantee there isn’t a cash cow out there that will go gentle into that good night, but I hope the cigarette industry coughs and wheezes it’s way into oblivion.

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