Commentary by Bill Buchanan
When I first heard that some of the tobacco companies are suing to block the federal government from requiring graphic new anti-smoking labels on cigarette packs, I was incensed. Who do the tobacco companies think they are? After all, according to the government’s Centers for Disease Control, almost a half million people a year “die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.” That is government-speak for “are killed by” cigarettes.
The new labels are very graphic. One of the labels depicts a sewn-up corpse of a smoker, while another one shows pictures of diseased lungs. So why shouldn’t the government force the tobacco companies to put the labels on the packs?
They do not work. So why waste time and effort on new ones? We already have warnings on labels, but I do not know one smoker who has ever been swayed by package warnings. The surgeon general reported that cigarettes were deadly in the mid-60s. That is almost 50 years ago. Is there any adult, with the exception of someone who has been in a coma since 1964, who does not already know that tobacco is dangerous — that it is deadly in all forms? Is the purpose of the graphic packs to say, “Hey, we are not kidding, here? We really, really, really mean it this time?” People have known forever that tobacco is linked to cancer and other diseases, yet 46 million Americans continue to smoke.
This is a shining example of the government doing something totally ineffectual while trying to come across as the great protector of the electorate.
I have no love for the tobacco companies. I think they are evil. I watched the Senate hearings when the executives of the big tobacco companies each took turns, under oath, swearing that they believed their products were not addictive. The same government now pushing for tougher warning labels had a great opportunity to bring some issues to light and put tobacco executives on the hot seat. Tobacco company executives have known for years how addictive their products are, and have manipulated the nicotine in their products to enslave this nation and other countries. But instead, senators allowed tobacco CEOs to sit there and lie to their face without any consequences whatsoever. Congress has been tougher with ex-baseball players about steroid usage than with tobacco executives about tobacco addiction.
So what are these new labels except government intrusion without any real benefit to the public? They are merely a smoke screen — something the government can point to and say, “Hey, how about these new warnings? Aren’t we on the ball? Aren’t we looking out after your health?” It is self-congratulatory, and ineffective, which happen to be two things at which the federal government excels.
If the government is serious about tobacco, it should do the following:
Tax, tax, tax the product. Hitting people in the pocketbook gets their attention. If cigarettes cost $10 a pack, that would work out to $3,650 per year for a pack-a-day smoker. At that price, fewer people would start, and some who were not totally addicted might be persuaded to quit.
Educate young people to discourage them from starting. Use some of the above tax revenue to have programs in the schools and public service advertising. Run public service ads with Justin Bieber, or someone young kids idolize, talking about why they do not smoke and why it is un-cool to start. Get someone in Hollywood to produce a short anti-smoking video, or a series of them. I am talking about something slick and high quality, Stephen Spielberg high quality, with cameo roles by stars who appeal to youth. It would be something witty, not preachy, that kids would want to watch.
Put strict penalties on anyone who sells tobacco to minors. Current fines are a slap on the wrist. If you fined someone $5,000 for selling tobacco to under-aged children, they would probably think twice about doing so. And I do not mean fine the business, fine the individual who sells to minors.
Would it work — who knows? But it seems a better use of time and resources than stronger warning labels. The government should make a real effort or just butt out.