The Boston Globe reported last Wednesday that a federal judge blocked the new FDA requirement that tobacco companies put graphic images on cigarette packaging. The article outlined the judge's ruling that requiring the images, which include "a sewn-up corpse of a smoker and a picture of diseased lungs, on cigarette packs violates the free speech amendment to the Constitution.”
This raises a serious issue, presenting all, including educators, with a dilemma. On the one hand, evidence that smoking kills is overwhelming. I had to watch it destroy my mother’s favorite uncle. Efforts to help smokers stop and aid teenagers to avoid smoking are commendable. Clearly, we’d all be better off if smokers quit in droves.
Reducing smoking-related illnesses is a worthy goal. But is it worth eroding the cherished freedom of speech on which all Americans, especially educators, depend? That’s a question for the Supreme Court. Despite the health issues, the specter of government edicts forcing organizations to publicly say negative things about their activities is not a pleasant one. So, we must ask – is the reward worth the risk? Do graphic, fear-arousing images actually help people quit smoking?
What the research shows
There is no question that graphic images on Canadian and Australian cigarette packs have proven to make smokers think about health hazards and consider quitting. A WHO bulletin stated, “The research on pictorial warnings show that they are: (i) more likely to be noticed than text-only warning labels; (ii) more effective for educating smokers…and for increasing smokers’ thoughts about the health risks; and (iii) associated with increased motivation to quit smoking.”