Can We Be Brainwashed?

Shortlink:

Marlboro ManRecently President Obama signed into effect a historic piece of legislation that greatly affects the tobacco industry and its customers.  The bill, which President Obama eagerly signed, finally subjugates the tobacco industry to the dictates of the FDA.

The FDA now has the authority to regulate the tobacco industry with impunity.  It can dictate the contents inside tobacco products, such as nicotine and other chemicals, and impose severe restrictions on advertising.  It will now be illegal for tobacco companies to sell candy and fruit flavored cigarettes.  Cigarette companies will no longer be permitted to have advertisements with colorful images or rest on attractive store displays but instead must be black-and-white and consist of text only.  Some experts even predict that by regulating the content of cigarettes, the new FDA standards will “make them taste so bad, it [will] deter users.”  Finally, tobacco companies will be required to themselves pay for the new bureaucracy that will regulate them.

President Obama hailed this legislation as a way to “protect our kids and improve our public health.”  He claimed that children especially are “aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry.  They’re exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn, and where they play.” The underlying premise behind this bill is that when people, especially kids, see an attractive advertisement or taste a candy-flavored cigarette, they cannot resist purchasing the product being promoted.   Tobacco industries might create an ad so appealing or engineer a cigarette so delectable that Americans will be helplessly led to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Tobacco companies, however, do not possess the power of coercion.  They cannot do anything to force people to purchase their products.  All they can do is offer and promote products that their customers value.  Cigarette ads, like all ads, are made to appeal to a certain target market.  Ads for alcohol aimed towards young men, for example, often display pretty women showing appreciation for a man’s choice of alcoholic beverage.  Such an advertisement will seem appealing to some people and appalling to others- but all are free to choose to purchase the product being promoted, or to purchase something else.  Similarly, when tobacco companies create cigarette ads, they try to appeal to the interests of their target market.  Viewing such ads, as enticing as they might be, does not brainwash anyone into purchasing an alcoholic beverage or a pack of cigarettes.  Advertisements only serve to actively remind people of the existence of certain products.  The choice to purchase these products, no matter how seductive they might be, remains just that—a choice.  Similarly, while the sweet taste of a fruit flavored cigarette might tempt a smoker to purchase another cigarette, the decision to do so is ultimately his.

Although those like President Obama seem to think differently, people are capable of making responsible decisions for themselves.  Individuals have the responsibility to assess the risks and benefits of smoking and then decide whether to smoke occasionally, frequently, or never.  There are some who make these decisions without such careful consideration, but that too was their choice, and they should bear the consequences of their decisions.

Anti-smoking advocates point out, however, that children cannot make careful, informed decisions about cigarettes.  But this isn’t just true of cigarettes.  Left to their own devices, children might decide to eat too much candy, stay up all night watching television, or use bad language.  Should the government also monitor how much candy children eat or when they go to bed?  Obviously not.  It is the responsibility of parents to guide their children into making the right choices.  Parents need to anticipate difficult situations that may arise in their children’s lives, such as peer pressure to have sex or do drugs, and discuss with them how to resolve these situations.  If there is a billboard advertising cigarettes in a child’s neighborhood, it is his parents’ responsibility to explain to him why he should not try a cigarette, even if it looks “cool” or exciting.

As long as tobacco companies are not presenting false information (which should rightfully be a crime), they should be able to advertise in any way they want and offer whichever products they choose in order to advance their business.  Tobacco companies do not force us to buy their products.  We choose to do so, and it is high time we take responsibility for our actions, instead of punishing an industry that is guilty only of offering products that so many people value.

Posted by on August 4, 2009. Filed under Culture, Government & Law, Summer 2009. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
  • Reza

    The problem in my view is that not everyone is equipped to make the informed decision about a product as lethal as cigarettes. It is true that the ultimate responsibility lies in the individuals hands. That is why some choose to steal, kill, burn, or commit suicide, and for the most part society, punishes them or helps them get psychiatric help. I agree that government regulation is not always the best solution but tobacco companies and for that matter any other business advertises to sell to a target audience but also to make them not to think about any other option. When a product as lethal as tobacco or anything else capable of being abused to the determent of ones well being. In my opinion until the day the public awareness has not been completed, should be regulated.

  • Al Brown

    Public awareness has never been completed for anything so I guess this means everything should be regulated.

    We’ll call it “No dope left behind”

  • Daniel Casper

    The public has a responsibility to educate themselves on the product they choose to use. Sellers are not liable of some person on the street does not bother to read their instructions or warnings, and them harm themseleves with the product. That is why the warning is placed on the box – to absolve the seller from any legal responsibility – and if you haven’t noticed there’s already a warning on boxes of cigarettes that they cause cancer. Cancer is lethal, therefore anyone who purchases a box of cigarette should be readily aware that the product is harmful.

    Cigarette companies have the right to make a product and sell it, just as the person who goes into the store has the right to buy it and use it. The ability to give the government the power to control what people can and cannot buy is more dangerous than a cigarette could ever be.

  • Reza

    The problem in my view is that not everyone is equipped to make the informed decision about a product as lethal as cigarettes. It is true that the ultimate responsibility lies in the individuals hands. That is why some choose to steal, kill, burn, or commit suicide, and for the most part society, punishes them or helps them get psychiatric help. I agree that government regulation is not always the best solution but tobacco companies and for that matter any other business advertises to sell to a target audience but also to make them not to think about any other option. When a product as lethal as tobacco or anything else capable of being abused to the determent of ones well being. In my opinion until the day the public awareness has not been completed, should be regulated.

  • Al Brown

    Public awareness has never been completed for anything so I guess this means everything should be regulated.

    We’ll call it “No dope left behind”

  • Daniel Casper

    The public has a responsibility to educate themselves on the product they choose to use. Sellers are not liable of some person on the street does not bother to read their instructions or warnings, and them harm themseleves with the product. That is why the warning is placed on the box – to absolve the seller from any legal responsibility – and if you haven’t noticed there’s already a warning on boxes of cigarettes that they cause cancer. Cancer is lethal, therefore anyone who purchases a box of cigarette should be readily aware that the product is harmful.

    Cigarette companies have the right to make a product and sell it, just as the person who goes into the store has the right to buy it and use it. The ability to give the government the power to control what people can and cannot buy is more dangerous than a cigarette could ever be.

  • Stephen Bourque

    Excellent article! It reveals one of the often overlooked facets of the “nanny state” – that underneath the coercive policies designed to “protect” society is an utter contempt for actual human beings.

  • Stephen Bourque

    Excellent article! It reveals one of the often overlooked facets of the “nanny state” – that underneath the coercive policies designed to “protect” society is an utter contempt for actual human beings.

  • Tom Jones

    Of course we can be brainwashed. Do not ask any more stupid questions.

  • DocScience

    Interesting, there have been no billboards for cigarettes in the years since the state AG Master Settlement Agreement. There have been no ad’s in magazines frequented by children.

    Yet the message remains that tobacco companies do these things which they have clearly stopped doing.

  • Tom Jones

    Of course we can be brainwashed. Do not ask any more stupid questions.

  • DocScience

    Interesting, there have been no billboards for cigarettes in the years since the state AG Master Settlement Agreement. There have been no ad’s in magazines frequented by children.

    Yet the message remains that tobacco companies do these things which they have clearly stopped doing.

  • Touchet

    Now its time for alcohol.  Those of you who hail suppressing others freedom out of necessessities of health, may i remind you there are many many things people consume on a daily basis that are not healthy and addictive.  For instance, alcohol and caffeine.  

    So next time you pick up that glass of wine or drink that cup of coffee, remember how you support banning other drugs, because the next to go will be your rights.