Recently, it was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that the Food and Drug Administration, which now regulates tobacco, will require all cigarette packages to carry scary warning labels depicting the evils of tobacco use, complete with gruesome photos of a cancerous lung, a man smoking a cigarette through a tracheotomy tube, and a corpse.
I’m not opposed to the warning labels on packs of cigarettes mandated since 1963. If a smoker can read, he or she knows the risks. These new labels are, however, vulgar and are going to be counterproductive. Researchers have acknowledged that images of cancerous lungs actually cause a perverse attraction to wanting to smoke a cigarette. Think of the success of rock bands since the late 1960s. The more outrageous their behavior, including references to Satan, the better their music sells to rebellious teens. Young people who have tattoos and body piercings are not going to be dissuaded from smoking by the sight of a tracheotomy.
At the press conference announcing this move, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unveiled the new labels in the government’s battle against tobacco, a legal, heavily-taxed commodity. This is the same Kathleen Sebelius who, as the governor of Kansas, was a supporter of “a woman’s right to choose” abortion and was a protector and defender of the late-term abortion “doctor” George Tiller of Wichita. And she is an official of our federal government, which sues to stop Arizona from enforcing laws on illegal immigration but insists on feeling passengers (including children) up at the airport.
“May” and “will” are two very important words to consider regarding tobacco and abortion. Tobacco may cause the user eventually to contract lung cancer, bronchitis, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and even death. Those are all real risks and should be soberly considered before lighting up. Abortion, on the other hand, will cause the destruction of a living human being in the mother’s womb. This is not conjecture. This is a fact that even HHS Secretary Sebelius knows is true and doesn’t care that it is true.
When the government gives itself the power to post in-your-face, gruesome warning labels in order to nudge public behavior, that power can work in other ways. It may come to pass that some pro-life state legislatures might just decide to post gruesome warning signs inside the waiting rooms of abortion clinics. Just imagine those posters of aborted babies going from the hands of pro-life protester Randall Terry smack dab into the waiting rooms at Planned Parenthood clinics as required by law.
This would be a real challenge to those who say they want abortions to be legal, safe, and rare, many of whom want smoking to be illegal and so rare as to become non-existent. Women with a crisis pregnancy could decide not to abort their babies once they see photos of aborted babies. Those photos in abortion clinics can save lives, and isn’t that what Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wants? It seems that she may have unwittingly opened a Pandora’s Box with these new in-your-face, like-it-or-not labels on packs of smokes forced by government fiat on taxpaying smokers. Yes, smoking, which is enjoyable, may eventually kill; and, yes, abortions, which are not enjoyable, will immediately kill.
Theodore J. King is the author of the book The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books a Million. He has been a columnist for the conservative quarterly The Oklahoma Constitution newspaper since 2000.