Smokers are easy political scapegoat

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This December will be the tenth anniversary of the government of Canada forcing cigarette producers to place a label containing a graphic image and health warning on their cigarette packages. This law requires the graphic images to consume 50 per cent of the front and back of the package. The government has now recently announced that it plans to increase the size of the health warnings to 75 per cent. However, it’s doubtful that increasing the size of the images will actually have any noticeable impact on the prevalence of smoking in Canada.

Now let me just say that I do not smoke and do not plan to smoke. In no way do I advocate it. I am also in no way against applying labels warning consumers about the dangerous side effects of products. In a free society the consumer and producer mutually consent to exchange one item for another. However, both parties should not misrepresent the product they are exchanging for. This already applies to a number of goods today. Just look inside your medicine cabinet.

These warnings, obviously enough, are very different from those on cigarettes in respects to their size and depictions.

Like nearly all other Canadians who are able to purchase cigarettes, I already know the dangers of smoking them and the effectiveness of the labels can be called into question. To see just how effective these graphic warning labels actually are, I looked at statistics from both the United States of America, which does not have these labels, and Canada, which does.

I looked at the period between 2001, when the labels were introduced, and 2009, which was the date of the most recent American figures. It turns out that between these dates the number of smokers in Canada declined by 3.8 per cent and in America it declined by 2.2 per cent. So Canadians had reduced the percentage of smokers by 1.6 per cent more than America. However, can this 1.6 per cent be attributed to these pictures and warnings alone? That is unlikely.

There are a number of things this decline can be responsible for including higher taxation on cigarettes and more laws to make the life of a smoker miserable such as a ban from restaurants. It could also be attributed to the difference in culture, especially in the southeastern United States where smoking is more socially acceptable.

Even if we like the idea of having graphic warnings on the cigarette companies’ packaging why expand it to 75 per cent of the packaging? What now makes 50 per cent unacceptable? It turns out that proponents argue that people are now immune to the old pictures. Why not just get new pictures and keep the previous size? If it is new, more graphic pictures that are supposed to scare people then this should be equally as effective. 50 per cent was a lot to ask of the cigarette companies, 75 per cent is just getting out of hand. When you think of it, there is a nasty double standard about cigarettes versus other potentially dangerous vices.

Drinking alcohol in excess increases the chances of liver problems and could, in extreme excess, kill the drinker due to alcohol poisoning. I do not see a picture of a dying person on a beer bottle. Fast food could lead to obesity and you could have a heart attack. I do not see a depiction of someone suffering from a heart attack on the food packaging when I buy a cheeseburger. Using a computer for too long may damage your eyes and yet there are no depictions of people sheltering their eyes in agony covering 50 per cent of the computer packaging.

I hope I did not give any altruists ideas.

Now do not misinterpret me. I think fewer people should smoke as it has bad effects and I find it upsetting that so many allegedly die from smoking.
However, this is for them to decide not for me to decide for them.

There is little, if any, evidence to suggest that this labeling law will do any noticeable good and this law against the tobacco companies appears to have been passed because of pure populism; a law meant to score political points.
I would advocate repealing this labeling law altogether or at least not increasing the size of the health warnings to 75 per cent of the package.

After all, tobacco does not damage peoples’ eyesight so chances are an increase in the size of the picture will not change peoples’ level of awareness.


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