Graphic Design

12 11 2010

People who know me know that I am a fiscal conservative and a governmental minimalist. The less government we have, the better off we will all be.

But sometimes I am in favor of a little old-fashioned governmental intervention and regulation. Like with the tobacco industry.

Now I have heard all of the arguments for why we should allow people to make up their own minds, why we should let business owners decide whether they want to be smoke-free or allow smoking, and why we should allow the economy and all its constituents to function unfettered.

But let me go on record as saying that I am thoroughly enjoying being in Florida right now, where no smoking is allowed in any restaurant. And I would love the completely smoke-free atmosphere of California. A person’s right to smoke ends at the tip of my nose. Period. Go ahead and call me a liberal.

Which is why I was glad to read that the Food and Drug Administration has proposed 36 extremely graphic new images for cigarette packaging. These images will be voted on in 2011, and will start appearing on packaging by October 2012.

The new images do not dance around the sobering reality of tobacco usage and its inherent risks. Smoking is responsible for 443,000 deaths in the US each year…deaths that, while not completely avoidable (hey, we all have to die), but at least delayable.

Now I will be first in line when it comes to championing company rights to produce products freely, package them as they see fit, promote them as they will, as long as those activities are done within legal bounds. But when it comes to cigarettes, there is no love lost between me and the tobacco companies. I know all the freedom-of-choice arguments and all that, but let’s face it: Aside from putting bullets in your own gun and pointing it at yourself, there is no other product available that, used as directed, will kill you.

But will the new images cause people to think twice about smoking? We won’t know until we try. Current US smoking rates are down by 50% since 1970 (to 20%), but the level has stabilized in recent years. It’s time to make a bigger push to get people to quit, and others to never start in the first place.

Of course, there is the other argument that cigarettes are an excellent source of sin tax revenue. In the last 40 years, cigarettes have risen from 38 cents per pack to an average of $5.33, and most of that increase is from new state and federal taxes. If people smoke less, there will be smaller revenues.

But that is contrasted by the costs to society of people smoking and dying. Productivity. Hospital stays. The losses to families of prematurely losing a loved one.

I realize I walk a thin line, one separating complete freedom from the tangled web of governmental interference. But I have no sympathy for Big Tobacco. Sure, let them sell their products of self-destruction. Let them try to seduce us with their promises of sophistication and coolness. Let them try to fool us with the hope of eternal youth.

But let them do it with packaging that tells the rest of the story. Because anything less is just a smoke screen.

Dr “Cough! Gag!” Gerlich

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