Nanny State

Evidently Smoking Is Bad for You

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Last fall I noted that the Food and Drug Administration was considering 36 different designs for the new, bigger, illustrated cigarette warning labels required by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Today it unveiled the nine it has settled on, which will begin appearing on cigarette packages in September 2012. It's a pretty undistinguished group. This is the best one. It's not great, but at least the image is striking and apt.

The rest are about what you'd expect from a day's work using Google image search or a clip art program: icky brown lungs next to healthy pink lungs above the warning that "cigarettes cause fatal lung disease," a businessman in an oxygen mask next to "cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease," a dead body showing that "smoking can kill you," etc. Especially weak: a bald (but living!) dude in an "I Quit" T-shirt to demonstrate that "quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health" and a generic crying woman who could be personifying any misfortune to illustrate "tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers." I'm not sure why the dead smoker has an autopsy zipper down his chest (wasn't it obvious what killed him?), why the FDA went with a mildly alarming mouth lesion to illustrate "cigarettes cause cancer" instead of, say, a face horribly disfigured by cancer surgery or a bald, emaciated cancer patient (one of the original contenders), or why it settled for a comic-book-style drawing of a baby in an incubator instead of a photo to go with "smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby." At least the FDA took my advice and ditched the guy who seemed to be simultaneously suffering a stroke and a heart attack (or possibly a migraine and indigestion).

As I said in November, the impact of the new labels will be impossible to track, since they are being introduced nationwide simultaneously, smoking rates have been declining more or less steadily for decades, and other factors that would be expected to discourage smoking (such as higher cigarette taxes and ever-stricter smoking bans) are coming into play at the same time. But the new labels do prove that the FDA is about as good at hectoring us as a moderately intelligent 10-year-old.