The FDA wanted to put hideous pictures of dead people and gorge-jolting images of disease on cigarette packs, intending to warn us that smoking is bad for you. There’s one person still unaware of that fact, Mr. Harold P. Johnson of Grotte Plate, Idaho, and even he says, “Well, they can’t be good for you.” Other countries show rotted lungs on their packs, so we must do the same, lest Europeans come over here and sneer at our pathetic attempts at promoting public health. (Between puffs on a Gauloise, of course.) But to the surprise of many, early this month Judge Richard Leon said no to the FDA. Any decent right-thinking person might wonder if he’s in the pocket of an organization that makes a lot of money off cigarettes, and the answer is obviously yes: the government.
But his decision was not based on emotion or concern for The Children, which makes him a peculiar throwback. How did this all unfold? Well, the FDA got the power to redesign legal products under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009. It’s worked great so far — when was the last time you saw a family smoking? — but the word “Control” suggests that this is their first shot at timorously asserting some jurisdiction. Hah! Seen a cigarette billboard lately? No. Banned. The sweeping vistas of a Marlboro ad, with its rugged guys on rugged horses in rugged lands smoking ruggedly, were so compelling that hundreds of thousands of people moved west to be cowboys before figuring out the ads were intended to make them smoke.
And then they started smoking. Ads turn us into pliable putty. Free will evaporates. See a Luckies ad, and you walk with a zombie’s gait to the store, buy a pack, smoke them all, throw up, and think, “That’s for me.” So it stands to reason that horrible pictures on cigarette packs will change behavior. They would: You’d see a booming aftermarket in cigarette cases with a Playboy rabbit logo or Hello Kitty or a skull-and-crossbones. If you put the pack in the box and don’t see the picture, you probably won’t get whatever disease is on the box. That’s how it works.
But even smokers know they’re fooling themselves. Most believe they will quit, they should quit, because smoking is expensive, stinks up your clothes, drapes a blue haze around the house, makes you cough up a bolus of goo in the morn, and might put you in the box with the nice satin fabric and shiny handles. Besides, the packs already have warnings, and smokers know them by heart, including the one about heart disease. They’re oddly relieved when they get the one that says smoking’s bad for pregnant women. Hey, great, I got the pregnancy-warning pack. So I guess this one doesn’t count.