New York Times Celebrates FDA's Graphic War on Cigarettes, Modeled on Ghastly 'Halloween' Images

Here's one obvious demonstration of what happens when liberals gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco: prominent, gruesome warnings of death on boxes of cigarettes. Apparently, mere text saying smoking can be fatal isn't enough “telling truth to power.” New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris celebrated this development on the front page of the Times Thursday. The headline was “U.S. Wants Smoking's Costs to Stare You in the Face.”

Left out of this nanny-state story: the sinking feeling that the FDA could follow San Francisco's war-on-McDonald's example and start putting toe-tag photos (or maybe just obese-kid photos) on Happy Meal boxes. Anthony Hemsley of Commonwealth Brands tobacco gets a brief chance to suggest the graphic warnings add nothing and only serve “to stigmatize smokers and denormalize smoking.” (In other words, "smokers: the new alternative-lifestyle practitioners it's safe to hate.") But Harris and the Times offer a parade of Obama government officials and public-health experts to explain their gruesome graphics campaign:

-- Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

-- Dr. Lawrence Deyton, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco products

-- Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for HHS

-- Dr. Margaret Hamburg, FDA commissioner

-- Dr. Richard Hurt, director of the Nicotine Dependence Center of the Mayo Clinic ("he said a higher federal tax and tougher workplace restrictions were also needed.")

Liberal lobbyist Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is also quoted.  Ben Blackman, manager of Georgetown Tobacco in Washington, is quoted to argue he might stop carrying cigarettes because the gruesome graphics might hurt his cigar and pipe-tobacco sales. "Such a result, of course, would delight public health officials," Harris added. As might be expected, Team Obama is taking after leftists in other countries:

Among the most arresting of the proposed labels is one in which a man exhales smoke through a hole in his neck. Some smokers who suffer cancer of the larynx must breathe through a tracheotomy instead of their nose or mouth. But the proposed labels are not as gruesome as some mandated in Europe, in which ghastly photos of blackened teeth and decaying mouths give a Halloween aspect to cigarette packs...

The United States was the first country to require tobacco products to bear health warnings, and all cigarette packages now sold in the country have modest ones like “Surgeon General’s Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.”

But 39 other countries have gone well beyond such brief warnings and now require large, graphic depictions of smoking’s effects. With Wednesday’s announcement, the United States — whose first European settlements in the 17th century helped to create and feed a global tobacco addiction — edged a step closer to joining those nations’ efforts to reduce the centuries-old epidemic of tobacco-related deaths.

It wouldn't be a New York Times story without a whack at America's endangering the world since its capitalist and imperialist inception. Check out Australia's labels. Canada and New Zealand are also leaders in this effort. (New Zealand even lectures men that "smoking can make you impotent," complete with a bent cigarette.)  But many countries have only text warnings.

The Times and other liberals loves the idea of warnings of the content of foods, drugs, and tobacco, but absolutely hate the idea of consumer warnings about media -- such as content warnings for children on entertainment programming. (Even then, the TV networks are allowed to assess their own ratings. Can you imagine the government letting the tobacco companies devise their own health warning labels?)

It would be interesting to see the Times reaction if the FCC decided to force television networks to air graphic warnings suggesting they turn the channel, or turn the television off, because television-watching is too sedentary or prevents you from reading books. Then they would sense a war on business and the First Amendment.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis