Truth in Tobacco Advertising

America’s largest tobacco companies are trying to stop an aggressive new public-health campaign. They claim a new labeling requirement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is unconstitutional because it forces them to allow consumers to learn the risks of using their products.

The companies say graphic new warnings on cigarette packages violate their free speech by compelling them to work against their own interests. So their answer is to deny federal regulators this opportunity for expression.

Cigarette pack with graphic warning

Cigarette pack with graphic warning

Cigarette manufacturers fear the warning labels could discourage smokers from lighting up. Let’s hope so.

The warnings are intended to cover the top half of every cigarette pack by September 2012. They include such images as a close-up photo of a smoker’s rotting teeth, a man exhaling smoke from a tracheotomy hole in his neck, and the sewn-up corpse of a smoker.

Current written warnings can be strategically placed on packs to minimize their impact. But the new warnings – the first revisions by the FDA in 25 years – will be virtually impossible to miss.

The FDA calls tobacco use the leading cause of premature deaths in this country, claiming half a million lives every year. The agency says the new labels represent “a significant advance in communicating the dangers of smoking.”

The nation’s adult smoking rate has remained at about 20 percent since 2005. In Ohio, it increased from 20.3 percent in 2009 to 22.5 percent last year.

Tobacco companies have every right to sell their products. Consumers have an equal right to know the consequences of using these products.

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