Katie Kieffer

If young people have casual sex, they’re rock stars, as long as they use condoms. If they casually smoke cigarettes, they’re borderline criminals. According to the FDA, that is.

The FDA takes a hypocritical and overly invasive stance on two adult products: Condoms and cigarettes. The FDA’s inconsistent and excessive regulation of these adult products hurts free enterprise and represents an inappropriate extension of government in our daily lives.

This month, The Associated Press reported that condom maker Graphic Armor Inc. is releasing the first line of FDA-compliant condoms with full-color advertising graphics directly on the latex. The graphics will include images of Kiss rock stars Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.

Even pop star Ke$ha, who just closed a deal with LifeStyles Condoms to get her face on the packaging of 10,000 latexes to throw out to her fans at concerts, knows that condoms aren’t foolproof. Her condom disclaimer is: "If it breaks, you have to name your daughter or son after me."

Besides the fact that condoms can break, reliance on condoms could encourage a sense of rock star invincibility and potentially lead to unhealthy behavior in young people. Naïve adolescents could get the wrong message from Graphic Armor’s marketing. But, an uptick in teen pregnancy doesn’t seem to worry the FDA.

FDA butts out reason

In the Indian village of Jaav, Hindu villagers color themselves in dye and smoke cigarettes to celebrate the end of winter. In America, the FDA appears convinced that smokers are just one step away from being criminals.

Accordingly, the FDA has released 36 new warning labels (it will narrow them down to nine by June 22, 2011) for cigarette packaging that will be mandatory in October 2012. On June 22, 2009, President Obama signed a landmark legislation called the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) that gives the FDA unprecedented authority to bypass Congress and regulate the tobacco industry’s marketing, advertising and even product content.

The warning labels are designed such that they will cover about 50 percent of each cigarette pack’s surface area. So, retailers will struggle to sell the products because the individual cigarette brands will be covered by the FDA’s scare ads, infers The New York Times.

One proposed FDA label depicts a “typical” female smoker with an image of a mother blowing smoke on her baby, along with the words: “WARNING: TOBACCO SMOKE CAN HARM YOUR CHILDREN.” Another ad shows a graveyard full of tombstones with the words: “WARNING: TOBACCO SMOKE CAUSES FATAL LUNG DISEASE IN NONSMOKERS.”

The FDA’s packaging mandate sounded a tad extreme to me until I remembered that every smoker I’ve ever known has literally sent every nonsmoker within ten feet of them to the graveyard and every female smoker I’ve ever known was an irresponsible baby-hater. I’m just relieved we have the FDA to keep adults and babies completely safe.

I also realized that Americans don’t need to vote for members of the FDA like they do for members of Congress because we have the FDA’s word that it’s uninfluenced by politics and is looking out for us. It’s kind of nice that we can trust the FDA enough to do business on a handshake, just like the good ol’ days. Ahhh.

A better way

OK, so I was being sarcastic. I actually think American companies should be able to advertise their products without an extra-constitutional agency like the FDA stepping in and big-brothering them. Especially a big brother who’s a big hypocrite: The FDA seems unconcerned about middle school kids having access to kinky, rock star fun in the tunnel slides, as long as they don’t smoke on the swings.

My view is: Let consumers make their own choices and let companies make their own marketing decisions. Need and demand for products and services should dictate consumption, not an unelected and unaccountable government bureaucracy.

The FDA has been quick to use its new authority to try to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes. But, a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that menthol poses no greater health risk, and may actually mitigate the risk of lung cancer by up to 30 percent, Reuters reported last week. So much for the government being an expert on the health hazards of smoking.

We need the government to effectively police the Texas-Mexico border, not excessively regulate advertising on adult products like cigarettes and condoms.

Americans should begin having public discussions about acceptable health practices in their local communities and families rather than relying on the government to make these decisions for them.

What do you think? Should an unelected federal agency like the FDA have jurisdiction over advertising on cigarettes and condoms? Or, should we leave such decisions up to individual citizens, small business owners and elected state legislatures?


Katie Kieffer

Katie Kieffer is the author of a new book published by Random House, LET ME BE CLEAR: Barack Obama’s War on Millennials and One Woman’s Case for Hope.” She writes a weekly column for Townhall.com. She also runs KatieKieffer.com.