The federal government has launched what may become one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in American history.
Camel cigarettes, which would eventually develop Joe Camel as its cartoon spokesman to counter the Marlboro Man, tied health, opinion leaders, and tobacco smoke. Its survey of more than 100,000 physicians of every specialty said Camels was their preferred brand.
However, by the mid-1960s, physicians had begun backing away not just from Camels but all cigarettes. A Surgeon's General's report in 1964 concluded there was a strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer. The following year, the Surgeon General required tobacco manufacturers to put onto every cigarette pack a warning, "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health."
In 1967, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the Fairness Doctrine required TV and radio stations to run anti-smoking ads at no cost. The message was clear to the financial departments—voluntarily eliminate cigarette advertising or lose five to ten minutes of sales time every broadcast day. In 1971, the FCC banned all cigarette advertising on radio and TV.
By 2003, cigarette advertising peaked at $15 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) To counter cigarette company advertising campaigns, government steadily raised cigarette taxes. State and local taxes accounted for $16.6 billion in 2008, according to the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. Federal taxes, raised to $1.01 a pack in 2009, brought in about $8.5 billion. New York City residents pay the highest taxes per pack--$1.50 city tax, $4.35 state tax, $1.01 federal tax. The average combined tax nationwide is $5.51. Pennsylvanians pay $1.60 state and $1.101 federal taxes. Much of the money is used to develop anti-smoking campaigns.
About 443,000 deaths each year are primarily from the effects of cigarette smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new campaign aims to cut that by half. The FDA estimates there are about 46 million smokers.
It's obvious that both tobacco manufacturer and government advertising campaigns have been effective. But there are several questions that need to be asked.
If the federal government demands health warnings on cigarette packs, why doesn't it also demand similar warnings on other products that also carry known health risks, like liquor?
If there is so much evidence that cigarette smoke—with its tar, nicotine, and associated chemicals—poses such a high health risk, why doesn't the federal government ban it, like it does numerous products known to be unsafe?
Does the federal government's campaign violate the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech? This becomes an even more important question since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that with few exceptions corporations enjoy the same rights as individual citizens.
If there is evidence that tobacco smoke is unsafe and unhealthy, and the government levies excessive taxes, why did the federal government grant $194.4 million in agriculture subsidies in 2010 and about $1.1 billion in subsidies since 2000?
Finally, if the evidence is overwhelming that cigarette smoke is dangerous, and the federal government taxes every pack but doesn't ban cigarettes, why has it been so adamant in refusing to decriminalize marijuana, which has significantly fewer health risks than what is in the average cigarette?
[Assisting was Rosemary Brasch. Dr. Brasch has never smoked, but respects the rights of those who do. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, a literary journalism novel about the counterculture.]