Knowing that a picture is worth a thousand words, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a proposed rule intended to turn the stomachs of 46 million Americans who smoke. They will see gruesome pictures and dire warnings every time they reach for a weed.
With regulations set to take effect June 22, 2011, packs of cigarettes and cigarette ads will have to depict horrific graphics ranging from corpses, to rotting teeth jutting from bleeding gums to a photo of a man with a grotesque hole in his throat. This would be the first significant tobacco advertising change in 25 years.
The 1964 report by the Surgeon General’s advisory committee on health said that smoking could cause cancer. Unless you just flew in from another planet, you are well aware of the potential dangers of smoking. But smokers enjoy this addiction. They have for centuries. That’s why people continue to smoke.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 gave the FDA power to further regulate smoking. So, the agency will select final labels in June. The law is aimed particularly at discouraging children from taking up the habit. Nobody wants children to smoke or to die. But are government-dictated grotesque pictures best for everyone?
Although kids are the main target of the grizzly graphics, most youngsters won’t be turned away by blood and guts. They feast on such scenes on TV and in movies without a twinge. Such graphics just as likely may attract rather than repel the 16-year-old.
If the gruesome graphics will do little to discourage youngsters and only disgust grown-ups, what about excise tax revenues as the way to discouraging smoking, snuff sniffing, and tobacco chewing?
Well, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 increased federal excise taxes on tobacco products and imposed new regulations on manufacturers and importers of tobacco. But little excise tax money is being used to discourage smoking. The District of Columbia and 14 states last year boosted the tax on tobacco. States in fiscal 2010 are collecting $17 billion from these taxes. States, however, are spending only $567 million on tobacco cessation in fiscal 2010, about 15 percent less than in fiscal 2009, according to the American Medical Association.
Since 1970, the proportion of smoking Americans has fallen from about 40 percent to about 20 percent. During the same period, the average cost per pack has shot up from 38 cents to $5.33, mainly because of state and federal taxes. So, cost apparently has some effect, but taxes not being allocated to stopping smoking.
The FDA, however, loves the idea of deadly graphics. “Some very explicit, almost gruesome pictures may be necessary,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in an interview with the Associated Press Nov. 11. “This is a very, very serious public health issue, with very, very serious medical consequences such as cancer, heart disease, strokes and lung diseases.”
There’s a version of the tobacco warnings in Spanish, of course, because in the minds of the politically correct and all who are willing to go along, we have become a bilingual nation.
Ironically, the FDA itself has tested and endorsed five nicotine medicines to quit smoking: a gum, a patch, a lozenge, a nose spray, and an inhaler. Also two prescriptions pills: Ziban and Chantix. If you want to quit, these approved means can help, without having to look at corpse pictures.
Today, illnesses from obesity kill more Americans than smoking does. Yet the FDA has recommended against a diet pill—lorcaserin—as not being totally safe, reported The New York Times in September. It would have been the first new prescription weight-loss drug in more than a decade.
In some counties with a higher rate of smoking than in our country there is less death from lung cancer than in the U.S. Japan, for example, has one of the highest rates of cigarette consumption in the world, yet the lung cancer death rate is only 0.5 percent, about one third of the U.S. rate.. Despite the high smoking rate, Japanese are remarkably healthy and have a higher life expectancy rate than the U.S., according to World Bank and World Health Organization studies. Strange.
So, what’s next? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 34 percent of adults and 18 to 20 percent of youngsters are obese. Moreover, half of Americans are headed for diabetes by 2020, the insurer United Health says. One in every ten health-care dollars is spent on diabetes. The disease can lead to amputation of limbs from poor circulation. Another challenge for Washington?
Any food containing too much sugar will cause you to gain weight. People drinking three cans of soda a week could–if they stopped that practice–lose two pounds a week, according to the CDC. Type 2 diabetes, associated with excess body weight “is a powerful driver of heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and amputation…,” pointed out ABC News Nov. 25.
So, what’s the next scare tactic for the nanny-state: Put gruesome graphics on cans and bottles of soda? Pictures of amputations of obese people with diabetes, or frightening warnings of obesity-caused heart disease for soda cans, splattered with photos of death and teen-agers in coffins?
Then there’s alcohol and drunk driving to worry about. An opportunity for the government to mandate new labels of death or shocking crash scenes covering the surfaces of beer cans and liquor bottles. Why should these “killer” companies making such products get off scot free?
The American Heart Association Nov. 26 said that 90 percent of smokers begin before age 20. The tobacco industry “needs to recruit 5,000 new young smokers every day to maintain the total number of smokers—because of the number who quit or die.” If youngsters find the horrific graphics collector’s items—as seems quite possible—the graphics will backfire and help to keep young people smoking.
Wouldn’t that be a sorry, but not so rare, case of the bureaucrats outsmarting themselves?