The Cigarette Labeling We Ought To Have

The FDA’s proposed new cigarette warning labels were announced with great fanfare the other day. Naturally, this is being done for the children:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the warnings long overdue.

“(The labels are) really to make sure that America’s young people don’t start smoking. We have about 4,000 people under 18 every day who try their first cigarette, and about 1,000 of them become permanent smokers. And that’s just not good for our country.”

Let’s leave aside Sebelius’s conviction that the federal government’s job is to raise the kids of the nation. Complaints about the “nanny state” are so last century. Instead, let’s pay some attention to how the FDA’s scolding of those naughty smokers out behind the school buildings of America, if it’s effective, is going to make our deficit crisis worse.

Bureaucrats and reporters incessantly talk about “saving lives” by talking people out of smoking. Of course, this is complete nonsense; the lifetime fatality rate per capita remains stubbornly at 100%. What you get by quitting smoking is a deferral, not a reprieve. The statistics seem a bit loose, but let’s say that non-smokers live 10 years longer than smokers, on average. That means, typically, 10 fewer years of payments of Social Security and Medicare benefits to smokers. Right now, even with the help of all our smoking fellow-citizens, those programs are on track to tap us dry within two decades. So why are we trying so hard to keep people from enjoying the pleasures of a deep, leisurely drag on a Lucky?

I say it’s time for us non-smokers to say what should have been said to U.S. smokers a long time ago: Thank you for paying all those payroll taxes and not hanging around to collect many benefits. Thanks as well for using fewer health-care resources over your lifetime than the amount gobbled up by non-smokers. In shortThank You for Smoking–You’re Doing the Rest of Us a Financial Favor.

It seems churlish not to put that message under the gruesome photos intended for the cigarette packs of the future.

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Filed under Economics, Politics

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