Grisly Images Should Be On Cigarette Packs

It was just a few decades ago when billboards, magazine ads and TV commercials depicted cigarette smoking cigarettes as hip, stylish, manly and comical.

The Clampetts' Granny would even light up a Winston at the end of an episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies." Then she'd mangle the brand's slogan by proclaiming, "Winston tastes good like a cigarette had oughtta."

Every leading man and leading lady in Hollywood smoked on screen. The Marlboro man was everyone's idea of a rugged he-man, and the women who puffed on Virginia Slims were just that -- slim, trim and desirable. The brand's highly successful slogan was "you've come a long way, baby."

But in 2011, that's not all that's come a long way since the first warning label appeared and cigarette commercials were banned from TV 40 years ago. So has the scary truth in advertising about the dangers of cigarette smoking cigarettes. And that truth is now poised to go even further with unprecedented new federal requirements for warning labels on cigarette packaging and ads.

Starting next year, cigarette companies will be forced to devote the top half of every pack of cheap cigarettes to gruesome images of diseased lungs, a sewn-up corpse after an autopsy, rotting teeth and cigarette smoke cigarettes billowing from a tracheotomy hole in a man's throat.

In all, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration selected nine grisly images showing the dire health effects of cigarette smoking cigarettes. Under federal law, manufacturers have no choice. They must use them all interchangeably on their products.

In other words, the tide has completely shifted in the U.S. on discount cigarettes labeling and advertising. Cigarette companies are finally getting a taste of their own medicine, and they don't like it very much.

Several of them, led by No. 2 cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds cigarettes Co., filed a federal lawsuit in 2009 alleging the FDA's then-proposed label requirements would violate their First Amendment rights. The companies insist they have a constitutionally protected right "to communicate with adult cheap cigarettes consumers about their products."

Their argument has support, mostly from those who believe that government has no business meddling in free enterprise. It's not surprising that an editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal last November sided with the cigarettes online companies' claim of First Amendment infringement. R.J. Reynolds is headquartered in Winston-Salem.

"We agree" with the company's claim of First Amendment protection, the newspaper said. "But we also see the value in more prominent health warnings, especially because of the potential that they might deter young people who have not yet tried smoking cigarettes ... We just don't think it will work with longtime smokers."

That may be. Who knows how habitual smokers will react to the new labels? buy cigarettes companies are nothing if not effective marketers. They have aggressively -- and successfully -- pursued new customers among young people and minority groups for decades.

The fact is, though, that the number of Americans who smoke cigarettes has dropped from 40 percent to 20 percent since 1970, according to government estimates. But there has been no significant drop since 2004, and young people appear to be picking up the habit again in growing numbers.

And that's where the new labeling might be a deterrent -- among teenagers and young adults who often are obsessed with their physical appearance. One look at a pack of online cigarettes showing rotting teeth and gums is bound to stop some would-be smokers from lighting up.

The point is, cigarettes are highly addictive and kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. They killed my father in 1979. They even killed the original Marlboro man.

Smoking is a serious public policy issue that costs taxpayers billions in health care costs. And Congress was right to step in and more strongly regulate the industry.

Tennessee and several other states also have wisely enacted smoking cigarettes bans in restaurants and other public places. And in Mississippi, which has no statewide ban, cities such as Olive Branch, Hernando and Tupelo have imposed public smoking cigarettes restrictions of their own.

Call it meddling if you like. I call it an exercise in good government.