[Cigarette dangers.]
Illustration by Louise Leong.
Cigarettes are detrimental to the health of smokers as well as those around them. Over the course of several decades, this statement has moved from controversial claim to clear, indisputable fact. The government knows it, society knows it, and even tobacco companies acknowledge it in the form of warning labels on their products.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved adding images to the currently text-only warnings on cigarette packages. This is a smart tactic to make potential cigarette buyers think twice.

California is one of the few states with anti-smoking ads, and we had the second lowest percentage of adult smokers in the United States in 2006. We can infer that although people already know the health risks of cigarettes, being periodically reminded of these risks in graphic ways can help reduce the number of smokers. Spreading the reminder from a few states to the entire country would be a positive step.

The FDA’s proposal coincides with efforts elsewhere in the world to reduce smoking. The British government has limited television and print ads of tobacco products. Uruguay recently passed a law that would make warnings cover 80 percent of a cigarette pack’s surface. Indonesia is working on a law that could completely ban cigarette advertising, and issues of packaging and storefront displays are coming up all over Europe. Health leaders from 171 nations will meet in Uruguay this week to consider an anti-smoking treaty. It would behoove the United States to lead the rest of the world by example.

The strongest argument against the warning labels, which could include pictures of dead bodies, is that they’re excessive, prohibit the free market, and are an example of the government babysitting society. But poisonous substances often have intense warning labels — and, with over 4,000 harmful chemicals, cigarettes are definitely poisonous.

Furthermore, secondhand smoke can cause serious health damages, so these labels protect the innocent victims of cigarettes. Freedom is key to our society, but when an individual’s actions harm others, the government has a right to intervene.