Didn’t You See? Those Cancer Sticks Are Bad For You

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Image Copyright Dale M Moore (Flickr), 2011

by Meera Patel Bio

 Who said smoking is a fad? Are you a smoker? Do you know someone that is? If so, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has information and an agenda they want to share.

In an effort to reduce the number of cigarette smokers, the FDA will require tobacco companies to print graphic and explicit warning labels on packs of cigarettes, starting in fall 2012.  These labels will include images of a sewn-up corpse, a laryngectomy patient with a visible hole in his throat, and an infant surrounded by a cloud of smoke, to graphically depict what smoking can potentially do to a person’s health.  Did that make you cringe a bit?  Well, that’s the point.

Currently, there are approximately 46.6 million adult cigarette smokers in the United States.  That’s one-seventh of the total U.S. population.  For obvious reasons, the FDA does not want people to smoke because of the potential dangers it presents to their health, but it appears that the FDA may have overstepped its boundaries this time in its efforts to protect the health of the American people.  In a nutshell, the role of the FDA is to protect our health through methods of widespread prevention and providing warnings to consumers of food and drug products, among other things.  But in this situation, the FDA is no longer simply providing a neutral, general warning about the potential risks of cigarettes.  The agency is pushing its biased views of cigarette smokers by requiring these gruesome images to be placed on the cigarette packs.  The non-smoker waiting in line behind a man buying cigarettes will now be inadvertently exposed to the images of sick infants and grotesque corpses, when he, as a non-smoker, has no intention of buying or smoking cigarettes.  The point here is that these labels are no longer a general warning to the public about the potential effects of smoking; rather, they are a commercial advertisement of why the FDA personally wants you to put down those cigarettes and never buy a pack again.

Tobacco companies argue that the FDA’s requirement of printing such gruesome labels on cigarette packages is a slippery slope.  What’s next?  Perhaps you might find your next hamburger wrapped in a graphic label of a man having a heart attack or getting liposuction.  Why hasn’t the FDA found the need to print graphic labels of a fibrous, scarred liver tissue on bottles of vodka?  Maybe it is only a matter of time that we will see such impositions, but the line must be drawn somewhere.

At a certain point, the choice must be left up to the consumer.  Smokers are paying as much as twenty dollars per pack of cigarettes in some cities because of the higher taxes being placed on tobacco; however, that hefty price tag isn’t stopping consumers from getting their fix of nicotine.  Besides the recent increase to twenty dollars per pack, cigarettes have contained alarming health warning labels for the past 45 years.  While there haven’t been graphic images of the dangers of smoking, significant labels describing the potential health effects have been there for as long as we can remember, including the well-known Surgeon General’s warning.  So, the question becomes this:  for consumers who have no problem dishing out twenty dollars for a pack of cigarettes that already contain health warning labels, are the new graphic labels really going to make a difference?

The FDA’s argument is that the labels are designed to discourage cigarette consumers at the point of purchase. It seems quite unlikely that a person who has been smoking for a majority of his life will decide to quit because of a few explicit images on his new cigarette pack.  It’s even more unlikely that that person will look at the new labels and say to himself, “I had no idea that cigarettes are dangerous for my health and could potentially lead to death.”

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