cigarette companies may be right…

The cigarette companies — and, boy, it’s hard to say this — may turn out to be right.

Not “right” in the sense we usually think of the word. The death, suffering and heartache that cigarettes have brought to millions of families is no longer in serious dispute.

But in the courts right now, it is beginning to look as if those gruesome, graphic warning illustrations that were supposed to be plastered all over packs of cigarettes might not happen after all.

English: Marlboro cigarette in pack.

You know the illustrations — there has been abundant advance publicity about them. A photograph of a diseased lung, a picture of a tracheotomy hole in a man’s throat, an illustration of a man with his bare chest surgically stitched up, a picture of rotting teeth. The full-color illustrations were mandated by the government to cover the entire top half of the front and back of every package of cigarettes. They were intended to be so revolting and so visually inescapable that potential customers would turn away.

But five tobacco manufacturers have argued in federal court that what the government has ordered is in violation of the First Amendment. The cigarette companies say that freedom of speech must not be trampled upon — and that for the government to tell private companies what large, ugly, dominant illustrations they must print on their packages is an infringement upon basic American principles.

The government derives the power to do this from the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, which was enacted by Congress. The R.J. Reynolds Co., manufacturer of Camel, Kool, Winston and Salem cigarettes, has said that the government-ordered images are “intended to elicit loathing, disgust and repulsion.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon appears to believe the cigarette manufacturers have a strong case. Back in November he issued a temporary injunction that blocked the forced publication of the images. At a hearing this month, he said: “There’s nothing on the record to suggest that Congress gave any clear and thoughtful analysis on the First Amendment implications of this.” He promised to have a final ruling soon.

No matter how much many of us may dislike what cigarettes have done to the nation’s health, the First Amendment argument is a compelling one. The government risks setting a troubling precedent when, regardless of how laudable the intentions, it tells someone — either a person or a company — that it must say and show things that aggressively advocate against the person’s or company’s own interests. That’s the slipperiest of slopes to start sliding down.

What about the text-only warning labels that have appeared on packs of cigarettes for decades? The cigarette companies have never liked them either, of course. But the argument in court is that there is a legal distinction between requiring labels that state facts and requiring illustrations that serve to actively advocate against the purchase of the product. The government believes that public health concerns are paramount; the cigarette companies contend that nothing outweighs free speech.

The tobacco manufacturers, as we all know, have long made ample use of their own free speech. Some of the old advertisements for cigarettes, when you come upon them now, are simply astonishing.

I recently saw a November 1936 national magazine advertisement for Camels, which presented cheerful, colorfully illustrated, course-by-course instructions on how to smoke five cigarettes at the table during Thanksgiving dinner to achieve “the peaceful feeling that comes from good digestion and smoking Camels.”

Among the tips: Start with tomato soup and “smoke a Camel right after the soup.” Before asking for a second helping of turkey, “smoke another Camel. Camels ease tension.” After the salad course, another Camel, which “clears the palate and sets the stage for dessert.” It goes on.

In 1954, when health concerns about cigarettes were gaining momentum, the Old Gold brand took out a double-spread national magazine ad that all but mocked the medical evidence. “America, we love you!” the ad began. “Thanks again for putting your trust in the cigarette made by tobacco men … not medicine men … We promise! Old Gold will continue to cure just one thing: the world’s best tobaccos … Smoke Old Golds for a treat instead of a treatment.”

If, in 2012, cigarettes were a new prescription drug, or a new over-the-counter medication, or a new snack, and the government knew what it knows now about the health ramifications, such a product would never be approved for consumer use. It would be yanked from the shelves right away.

But cigarettes aren’t a new product. They have a history of being sold legally. So the government is telling the manufacturers that they must run those illustrations to drive people away.

Will it transpire — will the government get its way? Or will the cigarette companies’ First Amendment argument prevail?

It has long been axiomatic that free speech stops at the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

But do cigarette marketers have the unfettered right to enthusiastically yell “Smoke!” to a crowded nation?

You can almost bet that this one is going to end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. What a case it will be.


5 thoughts on “cigarette companies may be right…

  1. Very thought provoking my friend. I agree that this is a slippery slope on which to tread.
    Back in my younger days I worked for a company that designed the “Joe Camel” ads. Sitting in the meetings and hearing the discussions about how “Joe” was going to bring in a “younger crowd” by this is was implied those under 15! There was no Judge sitting in that room, no MD to discuss health issues nor even a philosopher to discus morality. The only concern was the bottom line and how to “create” more “lifelong” smokers. I was appalled at the choices made in that room and decided I could not work there. It was a financially difficult choice but not that I ever regretted.

    My point here is that putting images as you mention would only be fair. The smoking industry needs to balance out the propaganda that they espoused. Plus if someone bought a pack with such horrible images on the packages I could see no way that the buyer could then say “I did not know smoking was harmful” and could never sue the industry again, which I am sure the companies would be happy about.

    Just my humbly opinion.


    • great fodder and i’m glad you were able to make that very important choice in your younger days!

      though i advocate the “reconciliation” of the cigarette companies actions, my concern is with the govt mandating or forcing private companies to say/express certain ideologies.

      just think, the govt is successful in dictating speech in this manner, imagine what this may do to other civil liberties – especially if the message to be dictated is wrong. remember when the us govt said drinking radiation helped sexual impotency? lol

      • I totally agree with you. It is worrisome if the Supreme Court has to mandate such changes.

        In a ideal world the companies would discourage people from using their products. But, since we live in a “bottom line” society we cannot expect such actions.

        Humans have behavioral traits that will, most likely, continue to fall prey to psychological manipulation.

  2. The Prohibitionists, and make no mistake that is the real objective, must be stopped now. Among those who choose to smoke, many are low or moderate income. Elitists have nothing but contempt for not only smokers, but also the poor who they frequently cite as in need of their “help”.
    Once this dangerous precedent of government overeach is allowed to stand, there will be many other bans to follow. Start with food and beverages, and use your imagination.

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous :)

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