Pity poor Big Tobacco

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board November 21, 2011 07:40 pm

Oh, those poor tobacco companies.

The gall of the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration, to mandate that cigarette packs include color photographs showing diseased lungs and other effects of smoking.

Beastly.

Fortunately for beleaguered Big Tobacco, it has at least one federal judge on its side.

Judge Richard Leon blocked an FDA rule, scheduled to take effect next year, requiring that cigarette packs include graphic photos showing the possible effects of smoking.

The scenes, including the aforementioned lungs, include a man exhaling smoke through a tracheotomy, a man breathing into an oxygen mask, and a cadaver on a table with post-autopsy chest staples.

Five tobacco companies have filed a lawsuit challenging the rule.

The judge concluded the companies are likely to win, but because the legal case could take years to resolve, they should not have to comply with the rule in the meantime.

The judge wrote that the photos are designed to elicit an “emotional response” rather than, as with the written health warnings that have been legally required for more than 45 years, to be “purely factual.”

It seems to us that the judge is giving too much credence to the saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words.”

A photo of a diseased lung is certainly more graphic than the written warning that “cigarette smoking causes lung cancer.”

And a photograph could indeed provoke a more visceral response in a smoker than words would.

But it’s illogical to conclude that a photo of a cancer-ridden lung is any less factual than the words “lung cancer.”

To put it another way, the judge decided the government can require cigarette makers to tell their customers that the product causes cancer, but showing them what cancer looks like probably will be deemed an unconstitutional imposition.

We hope the Obama Administration appeals Judge Leon’s ruling.