While urging smokers to quit is commendable, the government must recognize its limits in reducing this public health hazard.

Smokers are bound to choke on what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has in store for them.


The federal agency approved new regulations for how cigarette brands may be promoted. By September 2012, graphic images showing the consequences of smoking must be placed on packaging and in advertisements. The images selected were unveiled two weeks ago.


When the measure goes into effect, the images must be placed across the top portion of every pack of cigarettes. The disturbing pictures will accompany a toll-free number people can call for information about quitting.


Killing about 443,000 Americans each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said smoking is the leading cause of premature and preventable death. Smoking annually costs the economy nearly $200 billion in medical bills and lost productivity, according to the FDA.


Encouraging people to stop smoking is commendable, but the FDA has overstepped its bounds. People have known for decades how risky it is to smoke, and yet many of them continue to do so.


The gruesome pictures might reduce smoking in the short term, but the shock value will eventually wear off. How will the government ratchet up the sense of disgust once smokers become numb to these images? Isn’t this what happened with the warning label now on each pack?


The most the government can do here is fund research on smoking and make the information available. Federal officials can’t compel us to quit unless they outright ban tobacco. The tax revenue that rolls in from the sale of cigarettes, however, will prevent this from ever happening.


As long as cigarettes remain legal, some people will choose to smoke. We’d love to see everyone quit. But in a free society, the government has limits on what it can do to bring this about.


Suburban Life Publications