Should the United States Allow Graphic Warning Labels on Tobacco Products?

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by taterbugg0314

I lived in Thailand a few years ago, and the most frustrating thing I found besides the traffic was the use of graphic warning labels on cigarettes. As a smoker, I felt as though I should not have been continuously bombarded with graphic warning labels. Education through public and private education, as well as advertisements on television and billboards has taught the mass of children in the United States the dangers of cigarettes and tobacco products. Purchasing a package of cigarettes and being haunted by vulgar images is much like driving down a road in the Bible Belt and being terrified by anti-abortion billboards. It’s as brutal to be mentally attacked by a mutilated fetus, as it is to be attacked by anti-smoking advertisements. Even those who don’t buy tobacco products will be disrupted when they go to check out of a business and notice such atrocities. If we allowed  the FDA to mandate graphic warning labels on tobacco products, it could lead to a possible slippery slope. Obese children on candy bars? Reproductive organs with sexually transmitted infections plastered on condom packages? For this reason, the government should not allow graphic advertisements to be distributed on tobacco products because it’s a violation of free speech and there’s a more effective way to raise smoking cessation within the United States.

A graphic warning label is defined as an image that displays something that the general public could consider as vulgar, or disturbing. For example, they show black shrunken lungs, a corpse with a toe-tag on it, a man smoking through his tracheotomy tube, a child coughing in the back of a smoke-filled car, mouth-cancer infected gums and teeth, and so many more. The graphic images express a subjective point of view and give a message beyond pure facts, claiming if you smoke, you will suffer.  Maggie Fox, journalist for the National Daily Journal, establishes the graphic warnings are required to take up the top half of both front and backsides of each tobacco product and the warning labels will also cover 20% of cigarette packages (Fox, par. 3). Companies have become enraged because “the government anti-smoking labels are more prominent on the packages than the brand name” (Fox, par. 4). Tobacco companies filed a lawsuit against the FDA’s use of graphic warnings since “the warning labels violate their right to free speech because the labels don’t allow people to make their own decisions on whether to smoke” (Fox, par. 4). Allowing people to make their own decisions is a very important part of living in the United States, as we have the Constitution by our side to protect us.

Sally Rooke, a senior research officer for the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, John Malouff a professor at the University of New England, and Jan Copeland, a professor and director at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre assert lung cancer and smoke related illnesses kill approximately 5.4 million people worldwide. Richard Daynard, professor of law at Northeastern Law School, explains “despite the halving of smoking rates in the past 50 years, cigarettes continue to kill more than 400,000 people per year.” Twenty-three percent of women and eighteen percent of men smoke regularly in the United States alone. (Rook, Malouff and Copeland, 282). Stephanie Carter, author of Nicotine and Tobacco Research asserts, “smoking remains the largest preventable source of mortality in the United States” (473). Smoking has decreased over the years, but there are still too many people dying of smoke-related illnesses. The United States needs to kick it into high gear and get the ball rolling on anti-smoking campaigns that aren’t using graphic warning labels.

According to Danielle Weatherby, professor at University of Arkansas School of Law and Terri R. Day, professor of law at Barry University, “nine graphic images released by the FDA for publication on all cigarette packages this fall were designed specifically with the intent to shock the consumer and change his or her habits” (123). The government is using fear appeal in hopes that it will impact consumer decisions. Congress claims the images will drive long-term smokers to quit and decrease the incidences of first time tobacco use in adolescents (Weatherby and Day, 124). However, the government is unable to implement this, as it is a violation of the First Amendment. Compelled speech is supported, but only when it’s purely factual and non-subjective.

 If smoking cessation is the ultimate goal, the Smoke-Free Millennial Generation is the United States’ best chance at succeeding in this adventure, as it limits the smoking population. It’s not an official organization yet, but Richard Daynard has suggested it to the anti-smoking campaign multiple times. In order to raise the smoking cessation rates, smokers need to stay educated, but without being bombarded with images. The Smoke-Free Millennial Generation will ban cigarettes to anyone born after the year 2000.  It has many benefits that lead to an effective alternative to graphic warning labels. First and foremost, the Millennials are people aged 13 or younger, and will never have to start or quit. Nobody wants his or her child to start smoking, and with a capped birth date, no parent will have to worry. Since there is still a population of smokers, the impacts on tobacco companies and establishments that sell tobacco will only suffer a marginal impact. Retailers can easily enforce this policy, due to the fact there is a strict age limit. Since the nicotine limits are completely in sync with the FDA, the Smoke-Free Millennial Generation is completely compatible with United States policies. Thus, there will be no need to change manufacturing structures. All of these positive associations with the Smoke-Free Millennial Generation will even provide state and local officials to deliver focus on advocating for change, on top of all the other positive associations.

In order to carry out an effective solution to raise smoking cessation rates, the United States cannot accept the idea of graphic warning labels. Using another solution, specifically the Smoke-Free Millennial Generation, will have a greater impact on the general public since it limits the population of smokers. There is no better long-term solution than the Smoke-Free Millennial Generation. Our right to free speech will be protected, since the Commercial Speech Doctrine was enforced upon the FDA’s mandate. The public cannot allow itself to become a victim of brutal graphics by force. If they want to subject themselves to graphic ideas, they may do so, but it should not be a mandate on the general public.

Works Cited

Daynard, Richard. “Regulatory Approaches to Ending Cigarette-Caused Death and Disease in the United States.” American Journal of Law & Medicine (2013): 290-97. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Sept. 2013.

Fox, Maggie. “Judge Blocks FDA’s Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels.” National Journal Daily (2011): n. pag. Academic Search Premier. Web. 22 Sept. 2013.

Rooke, Sally, John Malouff, and Jan Copeland. “Effects of Repeated Exposure to a Graphic Smoking Warning Image.” Current Psychology (2012): 282-90. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Sept. 2013.

Weatherby, Danielle, and Terri R. Day. “The Butt Stops Here: The Tobacco Control Act’s Anti-Smoking Regulations Run Afoul Of The First Amendment.” Albany Law Review (2013): 121-65. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Sept. 2013.

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10 thoughts on “Should the United States Allow Graphic Warning Labels on Tobacco Products?

  1. “…tobacco companies and establishments that sell tobacco will only suffer a marginal impact.” In what way is that marginal? You are literally imposing a cutoff date for the life of a multi-billion dollar industry. All of that infrastructure isn’t going to just disappear when most people can’t buy cigarettes legally any more.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to temper the number of smokers out there, but pushing such an ambitious goal is not going to help, because it doesn’t have any chance of working in the first place.

  2. As though I do agree by not putting graphic pictures, but we do need to do something about reducing smoking. I see twelve and thirteen years old smoking these days, so even warning labels and bill boards are not helping. Maybe trying out the graphic images would help so teenagers do not pick up cigarettes.

  3. I loved when you said, “It’s as brutal to be mentally attacked by a mutilated fetus”. I completely agree with your opinion stated in the article. People who are buying cigarettes are already well aware of the risks associated with smoking them. By displaying a graphic image, which is incredibly revolting, of the above things will not deter someone from smoking. It will most likely make them contemplate their actions but if they don’t want to quit, they won’t quit. The government is not our mother. Therefore, it should not take a mothering role over our health. Our body, our choices.

  4. I agree with your article. I don’t think its ok for the government to say what we can and can’t do with out companies. I feel like the government Is taking this too far. I think its ok for the government to regulate some things. But they should not have this much power I feel it is a violation of our constitutional rights. Sure I don’t want young kids to start smoking at all either but to me this isn’t about what it does to people or how it effects them. To me its more about the government over stepping their bounds.

  5. While you certainly are correct in your feeling that the graphic images may be the harshest of ways to go about the campaign for anti-smoking laws, I must admit that they prove pretty effective.
    The basis for your argument (the graphics are a slippery slope) is based upon the idea that other items will be affected in very much the same way i.e. condom wrappers or candy bars. Personally, I don’t think that will ever be able to happen.
    Yes, it is true that over eating can cause obesity and many related health issues and STDs are transmitted via sexual contact. However, you’ll never see these kinds of graphics on food because we need food to survive and you cannot try to push the public away from food. As far as the images for the STDs, condoms don’t prevent STDs nor do they claim they do. Anyone that believes a rubber coating will stop you from getting syphilis is sorely mistaken.
    Essentially, cigarettes are not needed to sustain life, like food, and directly cause the health issues you see in the graphics, unlike condoms. Having the graphics would definitely make an impact on the younger generations who are experimenting or thinking about picking up smoking. This is not necessarily a solution for the long term smoker who is already hooked.

  6. Originally I was for the graphic images but your article totally changed my mind. I really enjoyed your article and I think it was very well written. I also agree with Jeremy’s post above this. You’ll never see pictures of STDs on condom boxes either…

  7. I agree that we shouldn’t put graphic labels on packs however I disagree that we should reduce smoking. Smoking will never be banned, a nice smoke is enjoyable after a big meal or a night of drinking, and hell it’s just cool, but it also serves a purpose. The inherited health risks with smoking have only allowed a high tax to be assessed with the purchase of them, allowing our government to generate revenue into the billions, and helps justify treasures to borrow money from future tax revenue. its the money from these taxes that help fund the public sector, its what puts smartboards in to public schools, and what pays to clean up the local park, so smoking serves a vital role in running our public sector, it helps fund the improvements needed to keep the public sector alive and well.

  8. I have no disagreements here. There is not a person in America who does not understand that smoking can cause health risks. Graphic warning labels just seem like piling on smokers even more.

  9. I agree with you and do not believe that if we put warning labels on packaging people will still purchase them. It is a matter of choice.

  10. I think it’s understandable to teach people about the risks of tobacco and what it can lead to but I don’t think it should be placed on the packaging. People have the right to choose if they want to use the products and they know the risks that come with it. No one wants to see what they will become if they overindulge with food so why with tobacco? Images like these should not be placed among the packaging in my opinion, it is the users choice and they know the consequences.

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