An unfortunate, but constitutional ruling

Smoking is bad. These days, it’s almost impossible to escape this truth.

Despite current campaigns to educate on the dangers of smoking, we as a country could go further. How many young, impressionable people would, upon picking up their first pack of cigarettes, pop one into their mouth if they saw a man blowing smoke out of a tracheotomy hole on his throat right on the package? Or perhaps a picture of a body in a funeral casket above the words “WARNING: Smoking can kill you?” Instead of a bland warning from the surgeon general, a law was to go into effect in September 2012 requiring that cigarette boxes feature large graphic messages and images of the adverse health effects of smoking.

It would indeed have been interesting to see how they responded, but a federal judge has blocked the law from going into effect. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, in a 29−page decision, stated that the size of the images meant that they served not to inform about the health dangers of smoking — as is the case with the surgeon general’s warnings — but rather to advertise to customers not to smoke. Furthermore, some of the images were computer enhanced to increase their emotional effectiveness. Therefore, he ruled the images were a violation of the First Amendment, as they forced companies to “speak” as the government told them to.

Leon made a tough call, but given the circumstances, he made the right one. Objectively setting aside the fact that tobacco consumption has been proven to be extremely dangerous and deadly, one needs to consider where this sort of regulation could be applied next.

This law, had it been upheld, could constitute legal precedent for, hypothetically, demanding that beer brewers put a picture of a person hospitalized for alcohol poisoning on their cans or that soda or candy producers depict morbidly obese individuals on their packaging. If it becomes all right to demand that companies deliberately sabotage their unhealthy products’ marketability, what would stop the Food and Drug Administration from rallying to kill other existing products’ brand appeal?

The argument that other countries have put similar cigarette pack regulations in place ignores the fact that the United States has traditionally put a greater legal premium on free speech than other countries have.

Education to prevent young people from partaking in the potentially deadly activity of smoking is extremely important, and we fully support the use of similar dramatic anti−smoking images on signage and in ad campaigns, but this law, in specifically requiring the signage on packaging, went too far astray from the U.S. Constitution.


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