Last year Congress enacted a law granting the Food and Drug Administration unprecedented authority to regulate tobacco products. The initiative, supported by President Obama, went largely unnoticed by the general population until this past week. When the FDA unveiled the shocking images that will start appearing on cigarette packs next year, everyone suddenly had an opinion on the matter.
Supporters claim that the pictures will reinvigorate the government’s sluggish anti-smoking efforts. Research indicates that the nation’s smoking population is on the rise, especially with respect to teenagers. The images are supposed to create a deterrent effect on kids and adults by visually displaying the negative health risks associated with smoking. The statistical evidence behind this rational isn’t necessarily solid, although data shows that pictures illicit a fairly strong emotional reaction in teens. Consequently, the ads are probably more related to youth anti-smoking campaigns than anything else. Proponents argue that other countries, including several European nations as well as Canada, enjoyed considerable success with even nastier images. In fact, some believe that the FDA’s selections aren’t nearly harsh enough.
Opponents naturally question the effectiveness and motives behind these new policies. They believe that the pictures will not significantly change people’s behavior and only serve to demonize roughly 20% of Americans. They question why the government is singling out the tobacco industry when other harmful products, such as alcohol and fatty foods, are getting a free pass. Furthermore, nsightly ads may harm retailers that sell cigarettes along with other items or simply force them to drop pre-packaged smokes from their inventories. Neither of these scenarios sound attractive in the midst of a struggling economy. Interestingly enough, the FDA has no plans to date to impose similar requirements on equally harmful tobacco products i.e. cigars and chewing tobacco.
The big tobacco companies are obviously among the naysayers. Rumor has it they might come up with some creative packing that obscures the unsightly graphics. Another possibility is that cigarette cases might make a comeback. These haven’t been popular since the 1950’s, though. Menthols aren’t subject to the regulations, so smokers may migrate to this alternative instead. There’s no telling what the future holds, but this debate illustrates the unmistakable power of contemporary advertising.