Judge Rules on Cigarette Packs

Proposed Cigarette Pack

A news story broke this week announcing that a judge has ruled in favor of tobacco companies who object to the FDA’s plans to require graphic labels on cigarette packs.

Several companies joined in the lawsuit, arguing that the new images and words would harm their free speech.

Images [I’ve pasted a link at the end of the blog] show photos of decaying teeth, a smoker with a plume escaping from his tracheotomy, and a cadaver’s chest that’s been sutured. Other images are cartoons of with copy that reads: “Warning: smoking can kill you.”

According to Medpage Today, which provides medical news without the breast-beating often seen in popular coverage, the tobacco companies said the warning labels would force them to “espouse an anti-smoking advocacy message” and thus violate their First Amendment rights.

The judge agreed.

The story will likely become the fodder for college text-books on multiple sides of the biopolitical debate, including PR and marketing books, legal exemplars, and health communication texts.

Several strands unfurl in this hydra of social conflict, including free speech and media effects. Seems that free speech also means that the state (in this case, the Food and Drug Administration) cannot force someone to engage in speech that is “unjustified or unduly burdensome,” according to Medpage.

But for me, all bets are off when it comes to corporations. How presumptuous to imagine that the men who framed the template for US governance sought to protect commercial enterprises, whose intent is to persuade individuals to buy their products, including ones that are patently harmful.

That corporations should be protected in the same manner as individual citizens is laughable. Corporations report to their share-holders, not to citizen consumers, and their mission is to generate commerce. I get that.

But do corporations need to be protected in their commercial speech?

The history of cigarette advertising is replete with persuasive examples that companies claimed brought no harm to individuals. Tobacco apologists said Joe Camel was never intended to sway youngsters and candy-flavored tobacco products were just one more method for adults to consume nicotine.

In the current scenario, the same companies that claimed researchers failed to demonstrate causal effects of advertising on smoking behavior now claim that graphic images and messages on packets will, according to the judge, “evoke emotion.”

Seems the tobacco companies want it both ways: freedom to persuade publics to buy their products, and the freedom to market them by whatever means available.

For more see: http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/Smoking/29506

[See the gallery of FDA images at the Denver Post http://photos.denverpost.com/mediacenter/2011/06/photos-fda-smoking-can-kill-you/%5D


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in health, risk and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Judge Rules on Cigarette Packs

  1. I really love the sciences, especially chemistry and physics. But I also love the creative aspect of the spectrum, such as writing and books. I really want to write. Would it be smart to minor in English or Creative Writing but major in the sciences? Does it look acceptable? I’m new to college stuff, and I’m curious. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to advance my scientific or creative knowledge! I’m a Junior in high school..


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