Smokers: easy political scapegoats

WATERLOO (CUP) — This December will mark the tenth anniversary of the government of Canada forcing cigarette producers to place a label containing a graphic image and health warning on cigarette packages. This law requires the graphic images to consume 50 per cent of the front and back of the package. The government 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.

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, neither party should misrepresent the product it proffers.

Look inside your medicine cabinet. The warnings on the bottles are very different from those on cigarette packages in both size and depictions.
Like nearly all other Canadians who are able to purchase cigarettes, I already know the dangers of smoking. The effectiveness of the labels is questionable. To see just how effective these graphic warning labels actually are, I looked at statistics from both the United States, 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. In America, it declined by 2.2 per cent. So Canadians had reduced the percentage of smokers by more than Americans. However, can this 1.6 per cent be attributed to these pictures and warnings alone? That is unlikely.

There are a number of factors this decline could be attributed to, 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.

Even if we like the idea of graphic warnings on cigarette companies’ packaging, why expand it to 75 per cent of the packaging? What now makes 50 per cent unacceptable? Proponents of the size increase argue that people are now immune to the old pictures. Why not just get new pictures and keep the previous size? Pictures that are more graphic should be equally effective. Fifty per cent was a lot to ask of the cigarette companies; 75 per cent is just getting out of hand.

There is a nasty double standard when it comes to cigarettes versus other potentially dangerous vices.

Drinking alcohol in excess increases the chances of liver problems and could, in extreme cases, 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 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 computers’ packaging.

I hope I did not give any altruists ideas.

There is little, if any, evidence to suggest that this labelling law will do any noticeable good, and this law against the tobacco companies appears to have been passed because of pure populism.

I would advocate repealing the labelling law completely, or at least not increasing the size of the health warnings.

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