There might remain some people who don’t understand the hazards of inhaling cigarette smoke.
Anything, we’re told, is possible.
But the Food and Drug Administration’s requirement that tobacco companies put graphic images with cautionary messages on cigarette packages isn’t intended for the deaf, dumb and blind among us. Rather, the images will drive even harder home the fact to cigarette smokers that each cigarette takes minutes off the end of a person’s life — and often the death is prolonged and unpleasant.
The FDA requirement is just the latest attempt by the federal government to snuff out an industry that is both a hazard to the nation’s health — and perfectly legal. Higher taxes that make the purchase of cigarettes prohibitive for many people have done much of that work, and explain why the tobacco industry in Robeson County is almost on its last breath.
The government remains frustrated that the number of cigarette smokers, after dropping steadily for many years, has plateaued since reaching about 20 percent of all Americans in 2004. The rate, disappointingly but not surprisingly, is higher in Robeson County, where tobacco used to be king, and about 25 percent of adults continue to smoke.
So the nine images — among them a diseased lung, blackened teeth, ulcerous lips, a corpse with stitched-up chest and a man smoking through a hole in his throat — will be required on cigarette packs by the fall of 2012. The FDA says that a person who smokes a pack a day will see one of the disturbing images as many as 7,000 times a year.
We don’t understand how the government did the calculations, but predictions are that 213,000 people will quit smoking because of the images during 2013, and increasingly smaller numbers will do so every year until 2031, when for some reason smokers will suddenly quit quitting.
If the FDA’s requirement is to be judged by the number of lives saved, and the overall health of the national, it will surely be applauded. Dropping the speed limit to 25 mph on Interstate 95 would also save lives, but few would suggest that is practical.
We cling to the belief that people can’t be protected from themselves, but that doesn’t stop the government from trying. We all just pick different poisons.
We now wait for graphic images to appear on the wrappers of cheeseburgers to protect Americans from diabetes and heart disease and other illnesses associated with obesity, and on bottles of alcohol to mitigate the ravages of alcoholism and cirrhosis.
We won’t hold our breath.