Monday, August 31, 2009

New Tobacco Laws: Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain...

Well, whisperings of this have been floating through the news for at least a few months now, but now we're at last being faced with the reality. Starting September 22, the sale of flavored cigarettes and clove cigarettes are now banned in the United States.

First, some quick background info: H.R. 1256, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was passed by the Senate on June 11 with a vote of 79-17. The House approved it the same day with a vote of 307-97 (clearly bi-partisanship is far from dead). President Obama signed the bill into law on June 22.

But the bill isn't solely on the ban of flavored cigarettes. No, this is a veritable motherload of legislation tidily wrapped up in one bill. Here's a list of just some of the results of this bill:
  • It creates a tobacco control center within the FDA and gives the FDA authority to regulate the tobacco industry. All of the tobacco laws put into place will be administered by this new division, and funded by special taxes on the tobacco companies that are expected to raise half a billion dollars a year, which will mean even higher taxes on tobacco.
  • The act bans the sale of all flavored cigarettes, with the exception of menthol. The use and possession of them will still be perfectly legal, but as of September 22, you can no longer buy them at your local store. (The ban applies only to cigarettes. Pipe tobacco, cigars, etc, are not included in the ban.)
  • It restricts advertising of tobacco products, including broad limitations on outdoor advertising that are nearly indistinguishable from restrictions struck down by the Supreme Court in 2001 [Government 1, Free Speech 0].
  • The act requires cigarette warning labels to cover 50% of the front and back of each pack.
  • It bans the use of words such as "light", "mild", or "low" that give the impression that a certain tobacco product poses less of a health risk compared to others.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Edward Kennedy (side note: if I have to watch another news bit about how amazing Ted Kennedy was, my television is going to go through a wall). It is also heavily supported by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and, surprisingly enough, Philip Morris, the country's largest cigarette manufacturer, and its parent company, Altria (but more on that later). President Obama has said that the legislation "will protect our kids and improve our health." The New York Times has hailed this as "an enormous victory for public health."

The FDA has 2 years to issue specifics about the new warnings tobacco products will be required to carry. The tobacco companies will then have 18 months to get them onto packages. The new labels will most likely include blunt warnings in large print and graphic images illustrating the dangers of smoking, covering at least half of the back and front of the packaging. If the U.S. takes their cue from other countries, which seems to be exactly what they are doing, the warnings will no doubt be shocking. According to this MSN health article:

If U.S. regulations are modeled after those already in place in Canada and other countries, the warnings will be shocking: blackened lungs, gangrenous feet, bleeding brains and people breathing through tracheotomies.

Over the last decade, countries as varied as Canada, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Iran, and Singapore, among others, have adopted graphic warnings on tobacco products. Some are downright disturbing: in Brazil, cigarette packages come with pictures of dead babies and a gangrened foot with blackened toes.

Now, a very interesting part of this whole fiasco is the involvement of Philip Morris, which sells more cigarettes than nearly every other American tobacco combined, holding about 50% of the entire market share. From The Big Money, a leg of Slate Magazine:

"It is a dream true for Philip Morris," Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, told me. "First, they make it look like they are a reformed company which really cares about reducing the toll of cigarettes and protecting the public's health; and second, they protect their domination of the market and make it impossible for potentially competitive products to enter the market." Other tobacco companies have taken to calling the bill the "Marlboro Monopoly Act of 2009"

Clearly, Philip Morris is just using this bill as a vehicle to eliminate competition. Teenagers are not out smoking cherry or chocolate mocha cigarettes. They are just smoking regular cigarettes, preferably in the form of Marlboro brand cigarettes, owned by [drumroll please] Philip Morris. Going back to the MSN article, about 81% of teen smokers prefer Marlboro brand cigarettes. The most popular flavored cigarette is [another drumroll please] menthol, which happens to be the only exception to the law. Menthol cigarettes make up 28% of all cigarettes purchased in the U.S., and a ban on menthols would have seriously hurt Philip Morris, which sells several varieties of menthol cigarettes.

According to a recent survey by the American Legacy Foundation, menthol cigarettes are preferred by 81% of black teens, 45% of Hispanic teens, and 32% of white teens. A 2007 study by the American Lung Association showed that, of the 20% of teens who smoked, only 6.8% had smoked clove cigarettes, and only 1.7% had smoked other types of flavored cigarettes.

The big selling point of this legislation is that it will cut back on teenage smoking by limiting advertising, making the dangers of smoking clearer, and getting rid of the flavored cigarettes which they feel are aimed to lure teenagers into smoking. They clearly have no idea what they are talking about. Teenagers start smoking because they think it's "cool", and they keep smoking because it's addicting. Cigarettes taste horrible, and no amount of candy flavoring could possibly make them taste less horrible.

I'd be shocked if almost every smoker in the U.S. wasn't already aware of the dangers of smoking. A friend of mine who took up smoking in high school had a very "we're all dying sometime, I might as well speed up the process" attitude about it, and that seems to be the norm with smokers. They are well aware of the dangers, are likely reminded of them constantly, and continue to smoke anyway.

I don't smoke tobacco - I think it's a stupid and dangerous habit, and frequently tell me friends and family who do smoke that they should try and quit, but I could never support the use of government to try to reduce smoking, because all that they are capable of is violence. They have written tons of legislation trying to tax and regulate smoking into oblivion. The taxes on cigarettes have become a huge burden on smokers. They have done everything short of just straight-out banning it, which seems largely due to the fact that it would completely destroy the big tobacco companies like Philip Morris, and the government can't afford to lose such a huge beneficiary.

Coming just on the heels of the huge raise in taxes on cigarettes, this is shaping up to be a horrible year for smokers, and for freedom in general. Here is my home state of Rhode Island, cigarette taxes are highest in the nation - the average price of brand name cigarettes currently floating around $8.35. Smokers have quickly become one of the easiest groups to attack in this country, and no one has stepped up to protect their right to put whatever substance they choose into their body. Maybe as the legislation gets worse and worse, people will start to wake up and oppose this latest tyranny, but we can only hope.


  1. Welcome Erika! Awesome first post.

    I don't smoke tobacco either--and hate the smell--but this is an outrage. The smoke nazis are far worse than the smokers.

  2. Haha, thanks. It was quite long, but I had an awful lot to say about this.

  3. Great post, Erika!

    The nanny state marches on! When and where will it end?

  4. Bravo on a fantastic article. With all the recent information regarding obesity in the U.S. just wait until they start taxing the Big MACs or Whoppers and French Fries. Maybe then a few of these people will wake up to the erosion of rights.

  5. YES, tobaco is bad.

    And, I find it a little too ironic that the government makes more money from a pack of cigarettes than does the tobacco company.

  6. Hit the nail right on the head!!!


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