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Big Tobacco 1, Public Health 0

(Also published at What Would Jack Do?)

In a verdict that will please every American who goes into a convenience store, a judge ruled that the FDA can’t make cigarette companies put graphic and disgusting anti-smoking warnings on their packaging. Thank god. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon uled today that the tobacco companies would likely win a lawsuit against the FDA so they don’t have to start putting the ads on their packaging.

I’ll freely admit to being neither impartial nor fair-minded when it comes to cigarettes. Being borderline allergic to tobacco smoke as I am, I tend to be disturbingly intolerant (unapologetically so) when it comes to anything smoking-related. I’m generally pretty easy-going…until someone lights up in my vicinity. Then I can go from 0-asshole with world-class speed. I’m not proud of that…but I suppose we all have our blind spots. This just happens to be mine.

That being said, it should come as no surprise that I’m a big proponent of the federal government’s proposed new warning labels. Smoking is a disgusting, addictive, dangerous, and deadly habit. Those who may view this argument in terms of personal liberty tend to gloss over the fact that ultimately ALL of us, smokers and non-smokers, pay the costs associated with smoking. Cancer treatment, lost productivity, absenteeism, pollution- all these costs and more are borne far more by humanity as a whole. Individual smokers are the ones who pay the ultimate price, of course; but smoking is not a victimless habit. To view it as such and to couch the argument in terms of personal liberty is to ignore the undeniable reality that smoking exacts a terrible toll upon all of us.

To my way of thinking, the proposed new warning labels are spot on. There should be a graphic depiction of the risks a smoker runs. There should be a nationwide television and Internet campaign to bring that message home to everyone, particularly children. This campaign should absolutely be a point of emphasis and one of the federal government’s public health priorities. It should be treated as the preventable threat to our health and well-being that it truly is.

All Big Tobacco has done is to successfully delay it’s day of reckoning. This ruling allows them to continue to elevate their bottom line over the health of their customers. It allows them to continue peddling an addictive and poisonous cancer delivery system. Worst of all, it allows Big Tobacco to continue business as usual…and that’s something that all of us will continue to pay for.


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Jack Cluth

Jack Cluth