A group of five American tobacco companies have sued the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the graphic warnings that are placed on the cigarette (and presumably other tobacco products) packaging. Their argument? The images are part of a wider FDA plan to curb smoking in the US, which requires companies to promote the government’s anti-smoking agenda – which the tobacco companies are claiming violates the right to free speech.
I am not a lawyer, or even remotely well-versed in US law, nor am I an expert on the US Constitution or the Bill of Rights, so I will say nothing on their argument or objection on legal grounds; however, perhaps it is time that the anti-smoking agenda in the West is challenged.
The US government is hardly alone in promoting an anti-smoking agenda; the UK government pushes the same agenda, and quite probably harder. It is now not only ridiculously expensive to smoke, but only permissible in very limited areas, and almost always outdoors. Over the years, there have even been noises made about prosecuting smokers with children.
We are all aware that smoking is harmful to the lungs. But then, we are all aware that alcohol is harmful to the liver (and the stomach, and the intestines, and the sense of decorum) yet we not only continue to drink, but the government by and large lets us do it. There is very little – if any – talk of prosecuting parents who drink in front of their children. Why, then, does smoking attract such fervent opposition – and why do we stand for it?
People who smoke are not mentally deficient, nor do they become mentally deficient via smoking. They are, one presumes, as capable of making rational decisions and choices as every other citizen in their respective countries. Furthermore, the addiction angle is not only weak as an argument, considering the numbers of people who have, quite simply, stopped smoking and never gone back to it without much difficulty, but further weakened by the availability of nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and so on.
People can also choose to walk away from the company of smokers, particularly in the UK under the smoking ban. Extremely rarely would you be forced into a situation where you could not physically remove yourself from the presence of a cigarette. My favourite objection to this observation is this: “Well, I shouldn’t have to move.” Well, neither should they. If I do not like the smell of greasy onion rings, I walk away from the food van. It is that simple.
So, it seems, people are perfectly able to choose when or if to smoke.
Why, then, are they not entrusted to do so?
The health issue is, of course, a large one – more so for us than for the US due to the taxpayer-funded NHS. Still, the anti-smoking agenda smacks very much of the nanny state: you aren’t rational enough to decide to ruin your lungs, smell like an ashtray, and die.
Yet you are rational enough to eat yourself into an early grave, or drink until your liver pickles.
People are not banned from McDonalds if they are considered to be too fat, and rising obesity rates are also costing the NHS millions. Neither is much done to constrain alcohol consumption, bar a very small (and practically unreadable) ‘drink aware’ slogan in the bottom corner of every bus stop advertisement.
Smoking is still treated with greater contempt.
We do not even have to look at the typical examples. Extreme sports are not banned, despite high injury or even death rates. Combat sports, such as boxing, are not banned despite high injury rates (although less commonly death). Travel to exotic countries with equally exotic diseases and poisonous animals is not banned, despite the permanent hotspot of malaria around the major airports. Simply put: that which is bad for us is not often banned. Sometimes, we are considered rational enough to choose for ourselves.
It is quite simply inconsistent. If the anti-smoking agenda is so powerful, then surely the anti-drinking and anti-obesity agendas should be equally powerful – particularly the former, as I have never heard of a smoker smashing a cigarette packet over a policeman’s head and causing severe injury.
If we are not challenged over our eating and drinking habits by laws banning us from eating in restaurants or requiring us to be breathalysed at every bar, off-licence and supermarket in the city, then we should also be allowed to smoke – whether it’s good for you or not.