Helen Whalen Cohen

Yesterday, the FDA unveiled nine graphic images which will grace the front of cigarette packages, starting in September 2012. I sarcastically referred to the movie Thank You For Smoking when I noted the new requirement. In the movie William H Macy plays Ortolan Finistirre, a nanny state-inclined Democrat Senator from Vermont, who introduces legislation to put a skull and crossbones, accompanied by the word 'Poison' on cigarette packages.

In a particularly funny scene, Nick Naylor, a tobacco lobbyist, asks the Senator whether such warning labels should also accompany cheese from Vermont, given that it is fattening and has potential to clog the arteries.

"The great state of Vermont will not apologize for it's cheese!", the Senator stuttered.

Sadly, what was meant as satire is now inching towards reality.

In a White House Press Briefing last night with Kathleen Sebelius (Secretary of HHS) and Maragret Hamburg (of the FDA), a reporter asked whether unhealthy food, with it's potential to lead to obesity and heart disease, could also one day bear a warning label. Here is her response, in full:

Q Following up on that question, really there are some horrendously unhealthy foods out there. And people who oppose this kind of regulation say the next step is to put pictures, graphic images of clogged arteries and fat-encrusted hearts on really bad food. Is that the direction you would go in a perfect world?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, again, I think tobacco is unique. It is a product that is the number one cause of preventable death. We know that there are strategies that can be very effective, because they’ve been in place. We also know that we’ve been stalled in this country. So I think this effort about tobacco regulation, efforts around tobacco cessation, has been decades-old and is something that is a unique situation.

Having said that, I do think that there are going to be ongoing discussions -- as you look at the underlying health care costs, where we spend 75 cents of every health care dollar treating chronic disease -- what are the areas, if you want to lower health costs and have a healthier country, that you can focus on? Certainly, tobacco and obesity become two of the major underlying causes. So the work around obesity and healthier, more nutritious eating, more exercise will continue to be I think an ongoing focus.

Q No graphic images on our food in the future?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Just lots of celery stalks and broccoli.

MR. CARNEY: Thank you, Secretary Sebelius, Commissioner Hamburg. I appreciate it. Thank you all.

As fourth branch bureaucrats usurp authority over what used to be personal decisions, we can await more heavy handed regulation. The press briefing is worth a read in full.


Helen Whalen Cohen

Helen Whalen Cohen is Associate Editor and Community Manager at Townhall.com.