Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Graphic Images" Get In Your Eyes

I find the current controversy regarding the plan to emblazon what the media enjoys describing as "graphic images" on cigarette packages interesting as a study in the exercise of governmental power.

I will first establish my bona fides.  I smoked for twenty years--cigarettes mostly, but I was also a pipe smoker.  I'd smoke a cigar once in a great while.  I haven't smoked for many years.  I quit "cold turkey" as we like to put it, although I did use nicotine patches for a time rather half-heartedly.  I don't miss cigarettes, but feel the occasional urge to light up a pipe--I like the smell of pipe tobacco (well, some pipe tobacco).

I smoked many different brands of cigarettes.  I started with Camels; no filters, the hard stuff.  I also smoked Lucky Strikes, Pall Malls and Chesterfields.  I would sometimes smoke Players when I could find them, as they seemed exotic.  The filtered cigarettes I smoked were Viceroys, Marlboros, Marlboro Lights, and even the silly True brand, sometimes.  I never smoked menthol cigarettes.

I can't say I was ever induced to smoke by the images displayed on cigarette packaging.  I found the Pall Mall package amusing, especially the use of the Latin phrase supposedly heard by Constantine in his dream before the battle of the Mulvian Bridge, "In Hoc Signo Vinces."  What, I would wonder regarding the package, was the sign supposed to be, and what was to be conquered?  At least they didn't display the image of the Emperor lighting-up while gazing in amazement at the cross in the sky.

I frankly don't know how I would have been effected by any of the "graphic images" being considered by our wise regulators.  I tend to doubt it, but those were very different times.  Smoking in public was quite common.  It was, in a way, social.  Cigarettes were borrowed, people would ask each other for lights (matches or lighters) during or in the course of striking up a conversation.  Gruesome, ugly packages would have been weird, certainly, but I don't think anyone noticed the packaging in any case, except to identify the brand.

Let's start, as we always should, with the law.  The FDA probably has the authority to make cigarette packing really ugly and disgusting, if it can be reasonably concluded that this will in some manner decrease smoking.  This is a matter of the police power of the government, as the health and welfare of the public are involved, and government has a great deal of discretion when it comes to imposing its police power.  One would hope the government has taken the time to make a record that the regulation proposed will have such an effect.  If it hasn't, and if instead this is the brainchild of some disapproving, but well-meaning (no doubt) bureaucrat, then it is a different story.

I think that adults should be able to smoke if they want to do so, provided it doesn't harm or inconvenience others.  I have no problem, therefore, with laws prohibiting smoking in the presence of others without their consent.  Tobacco being a luxury, and as I don't believe in some kind of absolute right to smoke, I have no problem with taxing or otherwise regulating the sale and use of tobacco, provided the regulations are reasonable.  Prohibiting someone from smoking in his/her home while alone or with other smokers would strike me as unreasonable, regardless of the fact that tobacco may be addictive.  We are long past the point where sneaky tobacco companies can lure people into smoking with ease or through trickery.  Tobacco's effects are too well known, and advertising is heavily regulated.  Adults should be allowed to make choices, even foolish ones, where they harm only themselves.  We have not (yet?) granted government the authority to make us healthy, wealthy or wise as it considers to be the case where only our individual status is concerned, nor should we.

There comes a point, I think, when government intervention of this kind becomes excessive, and that point is reached where the government treats its citizens as if they were utterly incapable of making choices, i.e., where government feels that it must make choices for them, or influence them to make the choices the government believes desirable for them (as opposed to others they are likely to harm by the choice to be made).  There is something in us which makes us think we know better than others what is good for them, and we tend to compel them to do what we think is best for them when we have authority and power.  This is dangerous, as we often don't know what is best for others, and we shouldn't get into the habit of viewing fellow humans as incapable of knowing what is best for them--because what we come to feel for them in that case is, too often, contempt.

No comments:

Post a Comment