A federal judge has blocked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from requiring tobacco companies to place new graphic images and warnings on cigarette packages. And thank goodness—have you seen these things? Diseased lungs. Cadavers. They cross the line from providing information about smoking’s dangers into straight-up government-mandated bullying. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon agrees—he said the images go beyond disseminating ‘purely factual and uncontroversial information’ and venture into advocacy.
The images—which include the diseased lungs, a dead body, an infant in an incubator and a man breathing through a hole in his throat—were approved by the FDA and Congress in 2009. Beginning this September, tobacco companies were supposed to place the images and associated health warnings on all cigarette packages.
But five tobacco companies sued, saying the new warnings violate their 1st Amendment rights. While the final verdict is still out, Judge Leon granted a preliminary injunction, halting the new health warning requirement for now because he believed there was a “substantial likelihood” that the tobacco companies would win “on the merits of their position that these mandatory graphic images unconstitutionally compel speech.” UC Berkeley 1st Amendment expert James Wheaton told the Los Angeles Times:
”You can’t force a company to carry the government’s opinion on an issue. These images are clearly not limited to a statement of fact. They’re designed to evoke an emotional response.”
The size of the new warnings—which would take up the top half of both the front and back of cigarette packages—is also an issue.
“You can’t tell them the whole box will be a warning label with a logo in the corner,” said Wheaton. “The smoking companies don’t come into this with clean hands either, but that doesn’t mean you can take away their constitutional rights.”
All this talk of constitutional rights aside, I think the images are just plain dumb. Smokers know smoking is dumb. Smokers know smoking can lead to all sorts of health problems. Smokers aren’t going to quit smoking just because someone’s placed some ugly images on their packages of cigarettes. But smokers will have to look at those terrible images all the time—and so will non-smokers, on store shelves, sitting on tables at bars and all over the place. We don’t require McDonald’s to plaster their restaurant walls with photos of obese people and clogged arteries, or bars to hang up drunk driving crash photos and diseased livers behind the bar, or soda cans to carry graphic warnings about diabetes. Why should tobacco companies be held to different standards than the makers of other dangerous but legal products?
Photo: NWA Online