With the deluge of negative media coverage that has surrounded the tobacco industry for the last several decades, anyone exposed to tobacco advertising has undoubtedly seen the ubiquitous black warning box “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.”
The media campaign’s overarching purpose is to get people to stop smoking, through the imagery and tactics of commercials, billboards and other media. These efforts have been slowly increasing in their morbidity and depictions of smokers’ abject desolation and pain. But the FDA nonetheless has recently proposed to ramp up its “anti-smoking” efforts.
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration announced its largest overhaul in cigarette packaging laws in 25 years, in which a complete redesign of cigarette packs now includes graphic images of tobacco related deaths and dramatic illustrations of smoking-related diseases, as well as anti-tobacco slogans like “smoking can kill you” and “cigarettes cause cancer.”
More importantly is new mandate concerning the amount of space allotted for the anti-tobacco propaganda. According to the Associated Press:
The labels will take up the top half of a pack of cigarette packs. Warning labels also must appear in advertisements and constitute 20 percent of an ad. Cigarette makers have until the fall of 2012 to comply.
The FDA says the new labels will “clearly and effectively convey the health risks of smoking” aimed at encouraging current smokers to quit and discourage nonsmokers and youth from starting to use cigarettes.
No one can reasonably argue for underage smoking, or for stopping efforts to inform the public on the dangers of smoking, but the FDA’s new regulations push the issue too far. Well informed adults should be able to partake in what is still a perfectly legal activity without having to stare into the gaping maw of a jaw cancer survivor each time he or she reaches for a smoke.
Imagine if every McDonald’s Big Mac came wrapped in a picture of a morbidly obese family, or if pesticide packages were covered in illustrations of dead bunnies and poisoned baby deer. Everything we do has consequences, and we accept those consequences whenever we eat a cheeseburger or care for our lawn.
These ads are meant to be a detriment to easily-influenced adolescents and other would-be smokers, but are largely ineffective in this respect. For the vast majority who buy cigarettes, and to the companies who produce them, they are nothing but an insult to their rights as a consumer and producer.
We have been made painfully aware that “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.” Tobacco companies have been demonized in every aspect of American culture, especially in the entertainment world.
From “Thank You for Smoking” to “The Insider” and scores of others, the popular campaign against tobacco companies paints the tobacco business as ruthless and uncaring, portraying industry leaders as dark, ghoulish figures who have no concern for their fellow man.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Between 1999 and 2009, Phillip Morris’s American holdings alone donated more than $240 million to school and community-based educational programs. In 2010, over $25 million was given to international charities ranging from child labor prevention to infrastructure building in developing nations.
Additionally, tobacco sales constitute a significant part of our national and global economy. In an analysis of 139 countries, more than 1.1 billion people identified themselves as smokers. In China, 350 million smokers consume more than 1.7 trillion cigarettes each year. Tobacco’s impact on America’s economy is very much the same. In 2008 state and local taxes on tobacco sales resulted in more than $16 million in revenue.
Many of the tobacco industry’s detractors cited the social costs related to smoking, but as Harvard Professor Kip Viscusi argues in a Heartland study;
…smokers already pay more in excise taxes than the social costs of their habits. Even before the Master Settlement Agreement, “excise taxes on cigarettes equal or exceed the medical care costs associated with smoking.” For example, Illinois’ cigarette taxes, according to Viscusi, were $0.13 more per pack than the social costs of smoking before the settlement added $0.40 to the price of a pack of cigarettes, before the $0.40 a pack tax hike approved by the state legislature in 2002, and before Cook County’s $0.82 a pack boost in 2004.
Nevertheless, tobacco companies continue to be the target of onerous regulations. The FDA needs to realize that there are different (perhaps even more effective) means of educating the public about how to make smart choices regarding tobacco. Many programs, like the highly successful “anti-youth-smoking” program, exist for the sole purpose of informing America about tobacco.
Tobacco has always played an integral role in our nation’s development. From the major role it plays in state and local economies and its regional cultural significance, the growing and sale of tobacco has been inexorably linked to America’s economic success since the birth of our nation. The FDA’s attempt at further denigrating an already stigmatized industry is an economically foolhardy and unwise regulatory move.