Federal Judge Richard Leon got it right. The new proposed labeling on cigarette packages, which were passed in 2009 and required more aggressive wording and half-pack sized graphic images of the various diseases and related effects smoking cigarettes can have, simply go too far and are well beyond what the government should have the right to impose on a private company and their product. You can read the CNN article here. How far did these new mandates go? I’ve included a few of the images that were to be placed on packages below. Please note these images may be considered graphic.
Those are just a few of the images the government was going to force tobacco companies to put on their product. Don’t get me wrong. Smoking is bad for you in all kinds of ways. You shouldn’t smoke, and smoking costs our healthcare programs and insurance companies billions each year in avoidable medical expenses. However, the government shouldn’t be able to force a private company to put graphic images, obviously designed to cause an emotional response and have a negative effect on the sales of a product, on their goods. Tobacco products already have labels warning you that they are addictive and can cause cancer. It’s also pretty safe to assume that anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the past 15 years is well aware that cigarettes are bad for you, addictive, and can shorten your life.People that are still smoking or start smoking are aware it’s bad for them. HHS may try to paint these warning labels as an education campaign or an attempt to communicate the side effects of the product, but it’s pretty obvious it goes well beyond that.
Think about this rationally for a moment. There are all kinds of products that are legal to sell that can have very negative effects. Take alcohol, for example. Does your beer or bottle of whiskey have a half-label picture on it showing a cirrhotic liver, a child affected by fetal alcohol syndrome, or a grisly fatal wreck caused by a drunk driver? Or you could consider those delicious snack cakes you find in the bread aisle. Do their labels have a half-box image of an obese person in a hospital bed? Or a person with an amputated foot due to complications from diabetes? The list goes on and on.
Yes, people need to be healthier (in so many ways). Yes, stopping smoking or not starting smoking in the first place is a smart decision and is in the best interests of a person’s health and the overall healthcare system. But are we ready to let the government force private companies to place grisly images of health problems (or dead bodies) on their products to try and achieve that goal? Judge Leon said no. In his decision, he said “Congress did not consider the First Amendment implications of this legislation” and “the graphic images here were neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks”. He said that the legislation goes too far because it forces a company pay to place a message and image it has no say or control over on their product and advertisements for their products, (reducing the space to place their own logos/advertising/etc. as well) and therefore makes the company promote a message (or image) from the government against their will. He therefore decided that the legislation was in contradiction to the right to free speech, and I think he’s right. If the government wants these images and statements out in the public as part of its anti-smoking campaign, it should buy billboard space and ad space on CNN, etc. to achieve that goal. It doesn’t have the right to force any company, making any legal product, to pay to place a graphic image or negative message on their products and I wish the government would brush up on the Constitution before it passes more invasive laws and regulations expanding the government’s power over private businesses.
As always, your comments, questions, and rants are welcome.