The Philibuster: Big Tobacco sues FDA, smoking warning labels absurd


The Daily Reveile

The head honchos at Big Tobacco recently filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., against — interestingly enough — the federal government.

The plaintiffs, led by J.R. Reynolds Tobacco Company, allege that the government’s newly revealed, mandatory, graphic (read: grotesque) warning labels on cigarette packages — one of the extensive regulating powers granted the Food and Drug Administration by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 — infringe upon their constitutional rights.

I know what you’re saying — it’s a patently open-and-shut case, more smokescreen litigation, mere smoke-and-mirrors politics. You’re right. Big Tobacco is blowing smoke, for all intents and purposes.

But I’m breathing it — I’m with the plaintiffs.

I do buy what Big Tobacco’s selling. No — really, I do. Cartons of it. I don’t smoke like a chimney. I smoke like a burning pile of tires. I’ve smoked more than the Orient Express. I’ve ashed more than Mount Vesuvius.

As a matter of fact, comedian Bill Hicks routinely joked that he wouldn’t just go through two packs of cigarettes each day — he’d go through two lighters. I’m at three — no joke.

Incidentally, Hicks is dead. However, he didn’t die from the adverse effects of cigarette smoking. You know, the ones that deter me — and the approximately 2,200 new smokers every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — from lighting up.

But if you don’t know — if, like many smokers, you haven’t yet deduced that cigarette smoking can kill you — you’re in luck.

“With these new warnings,” Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius clarified, decisively clearing the acrid, smoky air that has choked the American public for far too long, “every person who picks up a pack of cigarettes is going to know exactly what risk they’re taking.”

What a relief. It’s about time we were apprised of the risks of cigarette smoking. But what exactly are these new warnings? I’m chain-smoking, Secretary Sebelius — I’m just dying to know.

“These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking and they will help encourage smokers to quit, and prevent children from smoking,” Sebelius said.

Which, of course, is exactly what’s printed on cigarette packages now.

Something like this, I believe: “Surgeon General’s Warning: Let Your Government Do the Thinking, America. We Know What’s Best for You.”

For me, that’s frank, powerful and honest.

But not for the government, which asserts that cigarette packages ought to exhibit a graphic image of the effects of smoking, that warning labels ought to cover 50 percent of the packaging and that they ought to prominently display the smoking cessation telephone number, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, which “will allow it to be seen at the time it is most relevant to smokers, increasing the likelihood that smokers who want to quit will be successful.”

You know, because there’s a lot of digits in that phone number, and it has no discernible pneumonic device. Smokers are forgetful, after all — especially those trying to “quit now.”

What’s more is that the FDA has designed nine such warning labels, presumably to enhance its collectability. Take note, Fleer, Topps, Upper Deck — this is how you ought to market trading cards.

There’s a word for what this all amounts to: encroachment.

Another: absurdity.

Nevermind the constitutionality of the FDA’s newly revealed graphic warning labels. In Big Tobacco v. Big Brother, there’s something bigger at stake. We ought to choose sides carefully, as such, for the fact that we still have just that.

A choice.

Phil Sweeney is a 25-year-old English senior from New Orleans. Follow him on Twitter @TDR_PhilSweeney

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