Our hometown newspaper, the Joplin Globe, has a Sunday feature that I increasingly like. Called “Forum”, it examines contentious issues and usually presents positions on both sides. This is good journalism. It not only sells papers but encourages the public to look at views other than their own. This week the subject is particularly interesting to me, viz. the federal government’s decision to force the placement of graphic, some say gruesome, labels on cigarette packages.
The pro-side of the issue is an editorial from the Sacramento Bee. It says the action is justified because of the statistical certainty that most people who smoke will get cancer and have much shorter lives. It said,
This campaign could be one of the most important public health efforts ever.
The con-side of the issue is from the Chicago Tribune. It says that everyone already knows what smoking does to one’s health, but it is a relatively long-term effect and that the image of real young and middle-aged people smoking with no bad consequences is more powerful than any picture on a pack. It also recognizes that the labels might actually encourage some young smokers who enjoy flouting authority. It said,
This effort reeks of government as nanny, acting on the assumption that ordinary people have to be browbeaten into sound choices.
I began smoking in high school about 1953 and continued to smoke for many years thereafter. Almost everybody in the Navy smoked, and little wonder. Cigarettes were even routinely included in “box lunches” and were exempt from taxes when purchased “overseas”. They were a dollar a carton for many years. At the Naval Academy, the only guys who didn’t smoke, that I can recall, were Mormons.
Even on submarines, we all smoked. One time we were returning from Gitmo on USS Trigger and all of our purchases of tax-free cigarettes were stored in a torpedo tube. (Subs are cramped.) There was some worry that if we were to get diverted to a mission on the way home that we would have to shoot them into the ocean. Didn’t happen. We found it a source of amusement when on rare occasions of extended time submerged the oxygen level would get low enough that it would become difficult to light up. And even then, in the 1960’s, cigarettes were referred to as “coffin nails”. That tells us something about the macho mentality of military youth, does it not?
The Globe’s own editorial today referred to the Forum issue, basically saying that Missouri government seemed to be acting hypocritically about the issue because it is gladly accepting the increased tax revenue from cigarettes while supporting the graphic labels to discourage their use. But I have to observe, why not? What else could government do to discourage tobacco’s use, other than to criminalize it? And we really need the revenue.
The “nanny-state” argument on the face of it seems a powerful argument. That is until you consider that government already controls many parts of our lives in our own interests. For example it mandates baby crib design, seat belts, standards for personal property insurance, vehicle lights and brakes, and auto liability insurance, all in the common interest of protecting us from our own bad judgements. And isn’t that what it’s really all about? I don’t know anyone, except maybe Ron Paul and his son, who doesn’t want Uncle Nanny to do those things.
Allow me if you will to offer a couple of considerations about this issue that were not included in the Globe’s Forum piece:
1. A major cited motivation for discouraging smoking is healthcare costs, which as any engaged reader knows is crucial to the current national debt/deficit crisis. Smoking causes cancer and makes people die well before their time. So long as we have the EMTALA law on the books, society is required to pick up the tab for citizens’ ugly and increasingly expensive downward spiral into death when they have no health insurance.
2. Increased healthcare costs may be a chimera. Which costs more to society, a relatively short death from cancer in your 50’s or 60’s, or a more gradual decline from diabetes or dementia? The rates of the latter, deriving from the obesity epidemic, are rising rapidly. Government just might be increasing healthcare costs by discouraging smoking.
For what it’s worth, I quit smoking in April 1972 after I ran out of cigars on the way back from a Mediterranean Naval deployment and never smoked again. My father, a life-long smoker of coffin nails, died of cancer in 1964 at age 58, but it took another eight years, either for the reality of that to penetrate my thick skull or for my brain to mature that much. Or both. Somehow, despite my submarine history I’m still breathing at 74.
[Note: If you visited this post before and found some of it missing, it is because I messed it up trying to edit a minor problem. I am still learning WordPress.]
- Cigarette Packaging in the U.s. Finally Getting Gory Graphics (bodyprinciple.wordpress.com)