This not only makes me not want to smoke, it makes me not want to eat. It makes me not want to do anything. Bizarre. Weird. Mysterious.
Next week is the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking U.S. Surgeon General’s report on cigarettes. This report was the result of more than a decade of studies and research into the growing suspicion of a connection between smoking and lung cancer.
A lot of this is documented pretty well in an excellent book called “The Cigarette Century.” The report was fought big time through political channels by the tobacco industry, trying to get it suppressed.
The report issued by Surgeon General Luther Terry came out on Jan. 11, 1964, and along with the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry, was a major turning point in the fight against smoking. Now, there was a highly official report, signed off by the U.S. Surgeon General, unequivocally with no subtleties — smoking causes lung cancer. And that cigarette filters did nothing to lower the risk.
Think about that for a moment. No if, ands or butts. There is no doubt. For years, the cigarette industry had been working feverishly to create “doubt” about the science (the same techniques are used by global warming and evolution denialists today — feed the “doubt.”).
It was such a momentous report that it was actually released on a Saturday for fear that it would devastate the stock market.
Think about 1964 … smoking ubiquitous on TV, in movies, in almost every workplace. Ashtrays jammed with cigarettes in hotel lobbies, restaurants, work desks, cars, everywhere. There were no smokefree areas, not in restaurants, not in airplanes, not even in hospitals. The smell was everywhere. Cigarettes sold in vending machines.
My how times have changed since 1964. But, it changed slowly.
A few years after the report, the warnings arrived on packs of cigarettes.
You would have thought this would have been the end of the tobacco industry with two or three years, but no, incredibly, smoking continued to thrive and smoking rates didn’t really start to drop until the 70s, and then didn’t really drop all that dramatically until the 80s, nearly 20 years later.
Why? The industry fought back. Afterward, the tobacco industry poured more money than ever into its PR machine and its advertising, trying to counteract the influence of the report. Advertising was aimed at women with a series of new cigarettes marketed specifically for women. Then, came Joe Camel, enticing what the industry called “new smokers” (The industry’s euphemism for teen smokers) by making smoking look more cool than ever. And for a time, they were successful.
The smoking rate was about 43 percent in 1964 (and more than 50 percent for men). After the Surgeon General’s report came out, the smoking rate for women and teenagers actually went up for several years, but finally started to drop in the 70s. Around this time, cigarette ads were banned from TV and vending machines disappeared (They were finally banned by the FDA in 2010.). The dramatic drop-off was between 1970 and 1980, with a second, less dramatic drop-off after 2000. From 1990 to 2000, the smoking rate remained stubbornly persistent, dropping only from 25.5 percent to 23.3 percent (the result of a higher teen smoking rate than the 60s and 70s … thanks Joe Camel). Today, the smoking rate is about 19 percent.
What’s more. The attitudes toward smoking changed — dramatically. Smoking is no longer seen by society as “cool” or “hip.” Now, it’s seen as a dirty habit, something to be embarrassed about. Smokes are assigned to the alleys outside bars, in all kinds of weather. It’s no longer “fun” to smoke.
It took about 40 years to cut the smoking rate in half, in other words. Today, it is roughly about 44 percent of what it was in 1964. Just as importantly, but not talked about enough, is the amount of smoking has gone down because very few workplaces allow smoking any longer. There are very few 2- and 3-pack-a-day smokers today, compared to 50 years ago.
Jan. 11, 1964. The date the tide began to turn against the tobacco industry. It was the first major victory against the industry.
Judge Richard J. Leon ruled this week that graphic warnings on cigarette packs violate the First Amendment, because, essentially, they go too far in forcing tobacco companies to advertise something against their will that goes against their own self-interests (Basically, there is a judicial precedent that as part of the First Amendment you can’t be forced to say something you don’t want to say. The government can require written labels on cigarette packs, but graphic images go too far in provoking an emotional reaction against the tobacco companies’ own product, the judge ruled.)
“The government’s interest in advocating a message cannot and does not outweigh plaintiff’s First Amendment right to not be the government’s messenger,” Judge Leon wrote.
This is a bummer, but after the injunction, I wasn’t very optimistic. The Justice Department and Obama administration can appeal the decision (They’ve already appealed the injunction, which was imposed late last year. I guess that appeal is moot now). It would first go to a Circuit Court of Appeals, but I expect it would eventually go before the U.S. Supreme Court, and with the incredibly pro-corporate judges on the Supreme Court, I’m not optimistic this ruling would get overturned.
Again, a bummer. Most of the countries in the West require these graphic images on cigarette packs, but in the U.S., it appears the tobacco companies will squirm out of it. Unfortunately, for the moment, the First Amendment seems to be on the tobacco companies’ side.
The Obama administration and the Food and Drug Administration appealed an exasperating federal court ruling on the legality of graphic warning labels on cigarette packs.
The judge ruled that the warnings violated Big Tobacco’s First Amendment rights by (and I’m simplifying here) forcing them to publish warning labels to provoke an emotional reaction so people won’t buy their product. (It sounds wacky, but there is some legal precedent there — as part of the First Amendment, there are limits to how much you can make people say things they don’t want to say.).
What I don’t totally get is the logic that text warnings on cigarette packs DON’T violate the First Amendment, but graphic warnings DO.
So, while graphic warnings are being put in place around the world, in America they are on hold.
Anyway, this is going to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and will very likely end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. With the business-friendly “corporate personhood” court currently in power, I would bet money Big Tobacco wins. We need a couple of those old right-wingers on the court to retire, dammit! (Though they never will as long as Obama is president).
(Thanks to Classical Gas for the scoop on this story!)
Australia is attempting to force cigarette companies in that country to have utterly, entirely plain cigarette packages, with no artwork, no logos, no graphics whatsoever, except for graphic images of lung cancer and other diseases caused by cigarette smoking.
The Australian Senate passed a bill to require the plain packages. The Australian House is expected to approve the bill, as well, requiring plain packaging by next year. Tobacco companies are expected to file lawsuits. New Zealand is considering similar legislation.
In the U.S., these graphic warnings have been put on hold. A U.S. District Court judge issued an injunction stopping the FDA from requiring graphic warnings, saying they violated tobacco companies’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to advocate for something they didn’t want to advocate.
Someone showed me a pack of French cigarettes the other day with a pretty gross graphic warning of a rotting mouth. Their point was smokers really aren’t going to pay attention. My attitude is the vast majority of smokers probably don’t care about the warnings — I mean if they’re smoking, they’re probably already addicted to the nicotine. But, maybe, maybe, maybe, just maybe, it will put an inkling in a few smokers’ minds that, “Wow, I really need to quit,” and maybe, maybe, maybe, it will discourage some kids from beginning. Who knows? I can hear the nanny-state argument on this one.
The tobacco companies might actually win this round. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., Richard Leon, slapped an injunction against the graphic warning labels, saying there is a likelihood he would rule against the Food and Drug Administration. The tobacco industry (every major company but Philip Morris joined the lawsuit) argued that the labels violated their free speech.
The judge ruled that the images were in violation of a “First Amendment principle that prevents the government from compelling speech in the commercial arena.”
In issuing the injunction, Judge Leon states:
“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.”
Shit, shit, SHIT!
“Today’s ruling reaffirms fundamental First Amendment principles by rejecting the notion that the government may require those who sell lawful products to adults to urge current and prospective purchasers not to purchase those products.”
— Floyd Abrams, a partner in the law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel that’s representing Lorillard (Newport).
It doesn’t look good for the graphic warnings, which are in place and perfectly legal in places like Canada, the U.K. and Australia. Those countries don’t have a First Amendment and the kinds of legal protection for the tobacco industry that the U.S. does.
Someone did make a good point to me, though, that “do you really think that a smoker is going to care what the images are?” Most probably won’t. Most I’m sure will ignore them, but if one, or two or three or a few more than that ARE affected by them and say to themselves, “Shit, I really need to quit,” than yeah, I think they make a difference.
The case is still active, but with the injunction in place, the graphic warnings on cigarettes, in the U.S. at least, are probably a few years off at best.
Oh, look at this. Those kooky Kiwis have come up with the dumbest invention for smokers.
In some countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada, the warning labels on cigarettes have become increasingly graphic to discourage smokers (In the U.S., Big Tobacco has actually sued over graphic warning labels, saying, get this, they make smokers “depressed.” I can’t make this shit up.
In New Zealand, to counteract the graphic warning, British American Tobacco came up with this invention to cover up the graphic warnings so smokers don’t have to look at it. It’s like some kind of Velcro band that goes around the cigarette pack literally to hide it. Oh, brother. I wonder how many people will actually buy it? What a bunch of drongos BAT are, trying to circumvent the law.