I went on a date Thursday night my first since Nick and I broke up. The man was a dream-come-true for any single girl: he was tall, dark and handsome; the senior vice president of a booming advertising firm; well-traveled and articulate. But I decided not to see him again after our delicious three-course dinner; he lit a cigarette.
"You smoke?" I asked, not trying to mask my disgust.
"Yeah" he said and inhaled. "Is that a problem?" He exhaled.
I asked if he was trying to quit. He rolled his eyes and said, "No?"
There was no good night kiss.
Cigarettes have revolted me from the time I was a child. I went around telling people (as my mother instructed): "Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray." And I certainly haven't stopped now. It infuriates me that an addictive, poisonous stick (poisonous to the smoker, and to those in the smoker's vicinity) is still legal.
(Experts' reports suggest that tobacco use causes up to 6 million annual deaths globally. The death toll could potentially increase to 8 million people a year if stronger action to limit tobacco exposure is not taken, according to World Health Organization estimates).
I was elated when Australia's highest court upheld a new government law on mandatory packaging for cigarettes. Passed on August 15, the law requires cigarettes to be sold in olive green packets, with graphic images warning of the consequences of smoking. The new packaging rules are scheduled to take effect on December 1.
The whole point: smoking will look less attractive.
"The evidence of the positive health impact of plain packaging compiled by Australia's High Court will benefit other countries in their efforts to develop and implement strong tobacco control measures to protect the health of their people and to stand resolute against the advances of the tobacco industry," World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan said in a public speech after the decision. She hoped that other countries would adopt an equally tough stance on tobacco marketing.
Unfortunately, America took a sharp turn in the opposite direction last Friday. The federal government can no longer require tobacco companies to put large graphic health warnings on cigarette packages to show that smoking can disfigure and kill people.
In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington affirmed a lower court ruling (District of Columbia Circuit Court in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Food and Drug Administration) that the requirement ran afoul of the First Amendment's free speech protections. The appeals court tossed out the requirement and told the FDA to go back to the drawing board.
The nine graphic warnings that were used by FDA included color images of a man exhaling cigarette smoke through a tracheotomy hole in his throat, and a plume of cigarette smoke enveloping an infant receiving a mother's kiss. These were accompanied by language that says smoking causes cancer and can harm fetuses. The warnings were to cover the entire top half of cigarette packs, front and back, and include the phone number for a stop-smoking hotline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
In court some of the nation's largest tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., argued that the proposed warnings went beyond factual information into anti-smoking advocacy.
The majority opinion bought it. The appeals court wrote that the case raises, "novel questions about the scope of the government's authority to force the manufacturer of a product to go beyond making purely factual and accurate commercial disclosures and undermine its own economic interest in this case, by making every single pack of cigarettes in the country mini billboard for the government's anti-smoking message."
Ultimately, they rejected the FDA's warnings because the government could not prove that they would work: "We are skeptical that the government can assert a substantial interest in discouraging consumers from purchasing a lawful product, even one that has been conclusively linked to adverse health consequences."
The radical nature of this statement, and the overall decision is terrifying: the government can do nothing to combat the single greatest public health threat of our time.