Thursday, April 12, 2012

smoking gun: feds, ads, and you

Most rational people understand that "truth in advertising" is an oxymoron. We don't believe everything we see. But that doesn't mean it's ok to make any old claims you want about a product. If you take a look at product claims made in historic advertising, it is obvious we benefit from regulations that impose parameters and guard consumers against blatantly false claims.


However, how much power should the government (that is, WE) have over the advertising and packaging of a product?

Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated "larger, more prominent cigarette health warnings" be displayed on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States. Graphic warnings like these:

A federal court declared this mandate unconstitutional to impose this requirement on tobacco companies and struck it down before it could be implemented.

I don't smoke. But I'm not a purist. I smoked for a short season long ago when I worked in theater. Theater folks are typically a smoking crowd, no secret there. And I'll be honest - I enjoyed it. It's relaxing. It curbs your appetite. And it gives you something to do with your hands when you're waiting around for call.

But I got tired of smelling like smoke, of spending money, of hiding my habit from people who loved me and would have disapproved. I didn't like giving that much power over myself to a drug. And I knew it wasn't good for me.

I'd seen what decades of tobacco use can do to people. I'd listened to the wheezing and coughing of people I love. I'd watched their skin shrivel and wrinkle, smelled death on them. I'd watched them struggle for breath as they reached to remove the oxygen tube and light up. I'd seen them cough up something that looked like coffee grounds from the recesses of ravaged lungs in a hospital bed. I'd gone to their funerals.

So I quit.

Now the nanny state wants you to quit, too. And they think forcing you to look at gruesome images every time you buy a pack of cigarettes will do the trick.

See, the FDA claims their job is "Protecting and Promoting YOUR Health." Even if that was true (and not just the result of some committee meeting on coming up with clever mottoes), does it give the FDA the authority or the power to force tobacco companies to use pictures of rotted lungs on cigarette packaging?

Besides, if the FDA is going to force tobacco companies to use deterrent packaging, shouldn't they apply the same standards to other industries? For example:
  • Fast food companies should use only pallid obese people in power-scooters in their packaging (see above pic for cig pack)
  • Candy and soda advertising should feature hyperactive children with rotting teeth 
  • Grocery store brands should exchange pictures of red barns and sunshine for animals packed into CAFOs knee-deep in their own manure and fields sprayed by workers wearing chemical gear
  • Pharmaceutical companies should have to illustrate their products' small-print, fast-paced adverse reactions using pictures of patients vomiting, bleeding rectally, or lying in a coffin
I'm not for smoking. It can contribute to poor health and even death. But so can a bunch of other things that are well accepted - even expected - in our culture. The federal government has a role in regulation and public safety. But when they go too far - even for something we agree with in principal - we need to take note and consider the long-term ramifications to our freedom. After all, "they" are supposed to be "us". I think we have forgotten that....