This Week’s Cartoon: Free Speech for Cigarettes

Hmm… so according to this 2-1 appeals court ruling, speech added to cigarette packaging limits speech. I guess the “individual liberties” of li’l old corporate persons like RJ Reynolds outweigh a democratically-elected government’s right to add a message on behalf of the public interest. Never mind that we’re talking about the packaging of a deadly commercial product with a history of being marketed to kids. Actually showing a kid being harmed on the package would interfere with whatever those Marlboros are trying to express.

Via Raw Story:

In a dissent, Judge Judith Rogers said that the regulation ordering the label “does not restrict the information conveyed to consumers, but requires additional information to be conveyed with the aid of graphic images.”

Rogers, who was appointed by former president Bill Clinton, said that tobacco companies had engaged in “decades of deception” over health risks and had no legal basis to complain about “emotional reactions” to graphic warnings.

You may recall that Judge Janice Rogers Brown, the author of the majority opinion, was one of the radical George W. Bush appointees whom the Dems tried to filibuster, until the Gang of 14 came along and opened the floodgates of nutballery. She’s an extreme libertarian who invokes Ayn Rand in speeches to the Federalist Society, and calls government a “leviathan” prone to “crushing everything in its path.” You know the type. She and Paul Ryan would make great drinking buddies.

I’ve been surprised by the number of commenters on Daily Kos who say “Oh, the labeling won’t work anyway.” To which I responded:

I think some of the labels would work, such as the one shown in the cartoon, saying “Tobacco smoke can harm your children.” Some people have no regard for their own bodies, but they care about their kids, and could use the reminder to smoke away from them.

If the warnings have no effect, then why are companies fighting them so vigorously? Why does Judge Brown say the labels are against the business interest of the companies if, as she also says, there’s “not one shred of evidence” that they work?


  • Tom

    I get torn about this issue, because it worries me that cigarette advertising can be legally supressed – that to me is opening a Pandora’s Box – but I also think cigarettes are vile and foul and destructive (to draperies and bedding and the whole hopuse of a hapless smoker, as well as fresh air for the rest of us). Sometimes I think things were better before World War One when many states had outlawed cigarette sales, before returning Doughboys brought back the nicotine habit.

    In this case, though, I don’t see where the ciggie companies were losing the ability to advertise. The biggest worry I have is what other warning labels are now on thin ice? Can Proctor & Gamble sue to remove warnings from a one-gallon bottle of bleach? Or the warnings on a can of Easy-Off oven cleaner?

  • Jen Sorensen

    Agreed about the precedent for other warning labels. I think it’s dangerous to start viewing commercial product packaging as “speech” akin to an individual’s opinion, letter to the editor, work of art, etc. Even individual speech is subject to some restrictions (yelling fire in a crowded theater, to name a common example). Products are regulated, and with good reason. Cigarettes are a particularly unique case, given their history, so I don’t buy the “slippery slope” argument that everything bad for you is going to have a gruesome label. And hell, they’ve got warning labels already! So conveying the risks of smoking visually is somehow less legitimate than words?

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.