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The governmenmt's heavy cam,paign against cigarettes leaves some questions, including a First Amendment question unanswered.

by Walter Brasch

The federal government has launched what may become one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in American history.

Beginning September 2012, every cigarette manufacturer must display one of nine government-approved graphics on the top half, both front and back, of every cigarette pack. Among the warnings is a picture of a pair of healthy lungs next to a pair of cancerous lungs, with the notice: "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease." Another warning is equally definitive: "Cigarettes cause cancer," with a picture of rotting gums and teeth. A person with an oxygen mask is the graphic for the text, "Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease." Other pictures show smoke coming from a tracheotomy hole and a dead body with autopsy stitches on his chest. Other warnings, with appropriate graphics are: "Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby," "Tobacco smoke can harm your children," and "Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in non-smokers." One graphic shows a man in a T-shirt with the message, "I quit." Cigarette manufacturers must include all nine warnings in rotation on their packs.

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also requires that one-fifth of every print ad must include the warnings.

The FDA directive is based upon Congressional action in 2009. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which received strong bipartisan support, also prohibited cigarette manufacturers from sponsoring sports and cultural events. It further restricted tobacco companies from advertising their products on T-shirts and other clothing items.

The first cigarette ad was in the New York National Daily in May 1789. By the Civil War, cigarette ads were appearing regularly in newspapers. The tobacco industry's own propaganda machine significantly increased full-page full-color ads in magazines during the 1930s and 1940s; a decade later, the industry was one of the first to recognize the influence of the emerging television medium. The ads not only extolled the advantages of smoking, they linked dozens of celebrities to their campaigns. Bob Hope pushed Chesterfields; Ronald Reagan wanted Americans to give Chesterfields as a Christmas gift. One popular ad even had Santa Claus enjoying a Lucky Strike. Marlboros became hugely successful with its Marlboro Man commercials that featured rugged cowboy individualism. To get the largely untapped female demographic into its sales net, cigarette companies went with what is now seen as sexist advertising. Lucky Strike wanted women to smoke its cigarettes "to keep a slender figure." Misty cigarettes emphasized its smoke, like its women, was "slim and sassy."  

Camel cigarettes, which would eventually develop Joe Camel as its cartoon spokesman to counter the Marlboro Man, tied health, opinion leaders, and tobacco smoke. Its survey of more than 100,000 physicians of every specialty said Camels was their preferred brand.

However, by the mid-1960s, physicians had begun backing away not just from Camels but all cigarettes. A Surgeon's General's report in 1964 concluded there was a strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer. The following year, the Surgeon General required tobacco manufacturers to put onto every cigarette pack a warning, "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health."

In 1967, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the Fairness Doctrine required TV and radio stations to run anti-smoking ads at no cost. The message was clear to the financial departments—voluntarily eliminate cigarette advertising or lose five to ten minutes of sales time every broadcast day. In 1971, the FCC banned all cigarette advertising on radio and TV.

By 2003, cigarette advertising peaked at $15 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) To counter cigarette company advertising campaigns, government steadily raised cigarette taxes. State and local taxes accounted for $16.6 billion in 2008, according to the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. Federal taxes, raised to $1.01 a pack in 2009, brought in about $8.5 billion. New York City residents pay the highest taxes per pack--$1.50 city tax, $4.35 state tax, $1.01 federal tax. The average combined tax nationwide is $5.51. Much of the money is used to develop anti-smoking campaigns.  

About 443,000 deaths each year are primarily from the effects of cigarette smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new campaign aims to cut that by half. The FDA estimates there are about 46 million smokers.

It's obvious that both tobacco manufacturer and government advertising campaigns have been effective. But there are several questions that need to be asked.

If the federal government demands health warnings on cigarette packs, why doesn't it also demand similar warnings on other products that also carry known health risks, like liquor?

If there is so much evidence that cigarette smoke—with its tar, nicotine, and associated chemicals—poses such a high health risk, why doesn't the federal government ban it, like it does numerous products known to be unsafe?

Does the federal government's campaign violate the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech? This becomes an even more important question since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that with few exceptions corporations enjoy the same rights as individual citizens.

If there is evidence that tobacco smoke is unsafe and unhealthy, and the government levies excessive taxes, why did the federal government grant $194.4 million in agriculture subsidies in 2010 and about $1.1 billion in subsidies since 2000?

Finally, if the evidence is overwhelming that cigarette smoke is dangerous, and the federal government taxes every pack but doesn't ban cigarettes, why has it been so adamant in refusing to decriminalize marijuana, which has significantly fewer health risks than what is in the average cigarette?

[Dr. Brasch has never smoked, but respects the rights of those who do. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, a literary journalism novel about the counterculture.]

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Comment Preferences

  •  I think the vast majority of people (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bobsc, JTinDC, G2geek, spacecadet1

    who smoke know it's bad for their long-term health.  IMO this latest ad campaign is over-the-top.  They're not doing similar ads for alcohol consumption or sugar products which are also bad for your health.  Smoking is not illegal, nor should it be.

    written by an ex-cigarette smoker.  

  •  have you ever seen a lung (5+ / 0-)

    from a smoker?

    that should be on the box. not that it would stop people from smoking.  cigarettes are harder to quit than crack in my opinion.

    •  Smoking cigarrettes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Deep Texan, sewaneepat

      Is one thing where people should think of the kids.  It's too addictive.  It even smells good if you grow up around it.

      Republicans: Taking the country back ... to the 19th century

      by yet another liberal on Fri Jun 24, 2011 at 11:18:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  have you ever seen a liver from an alcoholic? (0+ / 0-)

      And if you had to choose between being a child with a parent who smoked, and a child with a parent with a serious drinking problem, which would it be?

      Hint: smoking doesn't make you go on violent rampages.  

      •  yup, it ain't pretty (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        but that's rather not the point of the discussion here.

        •  sure it is. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Lifestyle health hazards, consenting adults, risks to others, official policies toward same, and blatant hypocrisy.  

          Would you rather discuss prohibitionism?   How'bout prohibitionism enforced with modern surveillance, eh?  Arguably the reason it failed the first time around is that we didn't have the technology to watch everyone to prevent them drinking.  But now we do, so we can bring back alcohol prohibition, add tobacco to it, forget about ever legalizing pot, and invest in the private prison industry.  Whoopie!  Progress!

  •  There's been similar warnings (0+ / 0-)

    On packs of cigarrettes for a really long time.  It's a public health issue.  But yeah, why are tobaco farms being subsidized?

    Republicans: Taking the country back ... to the 19th century

    by yet another liberal on Fri Jun 24, 2011 at 11:15:31 AM PDT

    •  Yes (0+ / 0-)

      I've seen them in Australia and Thailand...

      I even saw one in Thailand that showed a foot with a horrific case of gangrene, so I am not sure what that was all about...

      I am a warrior for peace. And not a gentle man... Steve Mason, 1940-2005

      by Wayward Wind on Fri Jun 24, 2011 at 11:35:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  second-hand traumatic stress: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    So now even those of us who don't smoke will be bombarded with graphic gore staring at us from every pack of cigarettes.  

    Imagery that for many will be a PTSD trigger or a cause of additional stress regardless of any pre-existing PTSD diagnosis.

    It's not enough to "allow" people to refuse to view graphic gore on their televisions or computer screens:  no, instead everyone including nonsmokers and including children, will be subjected to graphic gore against their will, popping up at random anywhere there happens to be a cigarette pack: at grocery stores, convenience stores, news stands, even in public litter baskets and apartment communal trash containers, and even in the random litter on streets and sidewalks.  

    What this is, is another insidious part of the "violentization" of the culture: the gradually increasing tide of graphic gore that intrudes further and further and further into every nook and cranny, causing an increasing desensitization to all forms of pain and suffering and violence.  

    It uniquely mirrors the graphic gore on posters held by anti-abortion nuts at reproductive health clinics.  It follows in the footsteps of laws that require women who seek abortions to be forcibly exposed to various views of fetuses in wombs including their own: more fodder to stress out even the mildly squeamish.  

    If consenting adults want to look at photos of blood and guts, body parts, mutilation and disease, or the normal televised fare of "customary" explicit gore, that's their right.

    But those of us who do NOT consent should not be subjected to this shit, particularly upon order of government.

    Forcible random exposure to graphic gore is way beyond a step too far.  

    Law suit, anyone?  I'll sign up in a healthy heartbeat.

  •  if we're going to go this far... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    .... in terms of government forcibly inflicting graphic gore on the public at random, let's take it to its logical conclusion:

    Pictures on alcohol beverage containers, showing the mutilated bodies of drunk driving victims.

    Pictures that periodically interrupt all television programming to show couch-potatoes who have grown so fat they need their own zip codes.  

    Pictures of more mutilated automobile accident victims, engraved holographically on automobile instrument panels, as a "reminder" to wear seat belts.  

    Let's televise executions and go back to hanging and the guillotine, "in HD color!" to deter crime.  

    And let's bring back torture and put that on TV too.  Not for any particular reason, just because we can and because it makes the righteous feel really good.  

  •  Speaking as a smoker, I think it is a good idea. (0+ / 0-)

    yes, we all know it is bad for us, but maybe this will keep young people from starting to smoke.

    As for alcohol, the majority of people who drink are not alcoholics. The vast majority of people who smoke are addicted. There's the difference, to my mind.

    Agree that it is ridiculous that smoking is legal and marijuana is not, but the answer is to legalize pot, not criminalize tobacco.

    You can't scare me, I'm sticking to the Union - Woody Guthrie

    by sewaneepat on Fri Jun 24, 2011 at 03:31:03 PM PDT

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