The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently presented its ideas and somewhat of an ad campaign for continued deterrence of smoking. The primary elements of their campaign ideas consist of requiring cigarette makers to print bold and extreme graphic health warnings on cigarette packages and billboard advertisements. Their newfound power of regulating tobacco (The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act) has prompt these ideas.
The nine messages
These messages would consist of nine new warnings in text accompanied by color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking. The warnings are:
WARNING: Cigarettes are addictive.
WARNING: Tobacco smoke can harm your children.
WARNING: Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease.
WARNING: Cigarettes cause cancer.
WARNING: Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease.
WARNING: Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby.
WARNING: Smoking can kill you.
WARNING: Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers.
WARNING: Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.
The ideas are at the proposal stage as unveiled to the public. The FDA is seeking public comment on the proposed rule from Friday, November 12, 2010 through Tuesday, January 11, 2011. The agency is proposing that the health warnings appear on the upper portion of the front and rear panels of each cigarette package, and comprise at least the top 50 percent of these panels. In cigarette advertisements, the FDA requires that the warnings appear in each ad, and occupy at least 20 percent of the advertisement including color graphics. Yes, color graphics depicting the harmful affects of tobacco use.
So is this a good idea? Obviously the intentions are noble and valid. Tobacco use is harmful. Hands down, proven over and over again. But where does it end? This regulation issue happens to be about tobacco use. There approximately 40 million Americans who use tobacco products. Roughly 260 million do not.
Do we really want to see graphic images of the effects of smoking? There are other causes on the streets and on billboard advertisements that come to mind. For instance, anti-abortion groups and their graphic depictions of fetuses. Need I say more? The FDA regulates many products. Should we expect to see potato chip makers required to post graphics of obese people or overweight babies with their ads due to the obvious negative consequence of eating their product? The fat content of potato chips contribute to heart disease. How about cheese makers? Americans are eating more cheese than ever and cheese has one of the highest saturated fat content percentages of products consumed in America. Are we therefore going to see graphic images of grossly overweight people, with heart disease, clogged arteries, etc. on billboard advertisements in the future?
A picture speaks a thousand words as they say, but to all who experience it, not just a subset of who sees it. Having all of the public experience upsetting images is not productive. The FDA’s ideas for graphic representations may go up in smoke as the public realizes the consequences.