THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION announced last year that harsh new labels, large and graphic, would soon have to cover half of the front and back of all cigarette packages and at least 20 percent of the space in all tobacco advertising. Included in each label would be a blunt warning -- "Smoking can kill you," for example, or "Tobacco smoke can harm your children" -- plus a hard-hitting color image. Among the grisly pictures approved by the Food and Drug Administration: ravaged lungs; a corpse with an autopsy scar down its chest; a man smoking through a tracheotomy hole in his throat; a diseased mouth with discolored teeth and cancerous lesions; and a woman sobbing with grief. Displayed on every image as well would be the toll-free number of the FDA's smoking quit line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
The explicit labels, which Congress authorized in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, were supposed to be in place by next September. Last week, US District Judge Richard Leon wisely said no.
The FDA's gruesome new labels are not designed to provide consumers with useful information about the hazards of smoking. After 45 years of mandatory Surgeon General's warnings, every non-comatose American knows perfectly well that cigarettes are a noxious health risk. That's why the share of Americans who are occasional smokers has fallen to an all-time low of 19.3 percent, or less than 1 in 5 -- a far cry from the more than 42 percent who were smokers in 1965. No one, not even Big Tobacco, disputes Washington's right to require cigarette makers to disclose pertinent facts about their product's dangers. Those disclosures, it's clear, have been effective.
So why the shrill new labels? Not to inform Americans, but to indoctrinate them. To "grab people by the lapels," as NPR put it last summer, "and be the visual equivalent of someone yelling: 'Stop smoking!'"