Envision a beer can or bottle of liquor with half of the container plastered with pictures of wrecked cars, DUI arrests and diseased livers.
Visualize a gambling establishment with half of its entrance adorned with posters depicting destitute families and divorce proceedings.
Now imagine that the U.S. government mandated all that in an effort to curb the activities because they were deemed unhealthy and costly to the American public.
That is exactly what is happening to the tobacco industry.
The Food and Drug Administration recently unveiled new regulations for tobacco and tobacco-related products. The mandate entails that 50 percent of packaging and 20 percent of an ad be of vivid color image of the possible negative consequences of smoking. Additionally, the package and ad must carry a sober warning concerning tobacco use.
The new regulations will take effect in September 2012 and are a result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The new law mandates that cigarette packaging and advertizing have more significant and "graphic health warnings in an effort to educated the public about the dangers of smoking."
Among the nine images the FDA has designed are a diseased lung, teeth damaged by tobacco and a man with a long scar running the length of his torso. The warnings include: "Cigarettes cause lung disease," "Cigarettes cause cancer," "Smoking can kill you."
Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary, indicated that a major motivation for the new mandates was "targeting young people from wanting to smoke," CNN on its website.
"Somebody said when they first saw the warnings, these are really gross, and they are," Sebelius said. "We want kids to understand smoking is gross, not cool."
For the record, I believe tobacco use in any shape, form or fashion is disgusting. There is also no doubt that it is unhealthy and will kill. But if the government is going to demonize tobacco products because of adverse physical and fiscal effects -- some estimates put the cost of treating tobacco-related health problems at $95 billion annually -- then why doesn't it similarly highlight the negative aspects of abortion, alcohol or gambling?
Tobacco is estimated to claim the lives of approximately 440,000 lives a year. Comparatively, it is estimated that abortion ends the lives of 1.3 million pre-born children annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in 2005 showing that alcohol kills some 75,000 Americans each year and shortens the lives of these people by an average of 30 years. Of that 75,000, 41,000 died in automobile accidents or other mishaps.
While there are no hard statistics for the health consequences of gambling, studies do reveal that, as a group, problem gamblers suffer from a variety of maladies most likely due to stress. Gambling addiction also is tied to broken families, lost jobs, and lost income. Millions of Americans are gambling addicts, and many state governments are accomplices by promoting lotteries and casinos.
The economic costs of abortion -- while difficult to calculate -- are not hard to imagine. Since abortion was declared legal in the U.S. in 1973, more than 50 million pre-born babies have lost their lives. That means there are millions of fewer citizens who otherwise would be contributing to the economy and the tax base.
A 2006 report by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that alcohol abuse costs the United States an estimated $185 billion annually. However, only $26 billion -- 14 percent of the total -- comes from direct medical costs or treating alcoholics. Almost half -- $88 billion -- comes from lost productivity. Additionally, in 2006 George Washington University researchers reported that excessive drinking adds $35 billion to health care coverage annually.
There is no doubt that tobacco use results in poor health and a drain on the economy. But so do abortion, alcohol and gambling.
If the U.S. government is really concerned about the long-term well-being of its citizens, why does it cherry pick tobacco to regulate in an effort to discourage its use while all but ignoring abortion, alcohol and gambling? Of the four, none help to make our nation more healthy, wealthy or wise.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
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