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Cigarette labels: Too much of a good thing

November 8, 2011 |  7:36 am

Do new cigarette warning labels go too far?
I get it.

Smoking is really, really bad for you. It can make you sick; it can kill you. It can make those around you sick. It can kill them.

I get the picture. I just don't need the pictures.

As The Times' Amina Khan reported, the Food and Drug Administration had ordered that, beginning in fall 2012, all cigarette packs would carry new labels that "would cover the top half of a cigarette box and include the number to a smoking-cessation hotline."

Among other graphic images, the labels show a man blowing smoke out of a tracheotomy hole in his neck, a pair of diseased lungs and a dead man with autopsy staples in his chest.

Nice. Too bad there's no room for video. Think of the possibilities: Death throes of an ex-smoker.

If there can be too much of a good thing, surely there can be too much of a bad thing. And these labels are both.

On Monday, a federal judge agreed. As Khan reported:

Five of the six largest tobacco companies sued the FDA on free-speech grounds and asked for a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the images, set for fall of 2012. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled in their favor Monday.

"It is abundantly clear from viewing these images that the emotional response they were crafted to induce is calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never to start smoking -- an objective wholly apart from disseminating purely factual and uncontroversial information," Leon wrote in court documents, the Associated Press reported.

Well, duh. Of course the images are intended to cause you to quit or to not start smoking. I mean, we crossed that Rubicon a long time ago.

We've been passing laws for decades intended to force people to quit -- to make it so hard to smoke that they'll give up in frustration, if nothing else. You think all of those folks puffing away as they stand outside in Chicago in December just want fresh air? 

But why only smokers? Why not, say, pictures of car-crash victims on beer cans, to cut down on drunk driving? Or shots of clogged arteries on that package of steak at the market, to warn of the dangers of too much red meat?  

No, seemingly our do-gooder, nanny-state instincts have been reserved mostly for smokers.   

But enough is enough.

By now, everyone knows the dangers of smoking -- the old warning labels spell it out for you.

And if you choose to ignore those warnings?

As we used to say: It's a free country.


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Cigarette label rules: Legitimate warning or "compelled speech"?

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Two of the nine graphic warning labels that cigarette makers would be required to use by the fall of 2012. Credit: Associated Press

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