Can the government force you to be healthy?

Christen Mullet

Cigarette smokers represent more than 45 million Americans, which is about 15 percent of the population. That sizeable portion of the U.S. may soon be affected by a proposed law, which will require every box of cigarettes sold in the United States to display disturbing and graphic photographs of people suffering from cancer, second-hand smoke, lung disease, strokes, heart disease and even photos depicting death. The images would be accompanied by written warnings and will be required by the Food and Drug Administration to cover at least 50 percent of the front of all cigarette containers.

Other countries such as England, Australia and Canada have already adopted these warnings and graphic photographs, but many say they do little to deter smokers from continuing the habit. In fact, most people ignore the pictures or cover them, and some even make light of the pictures by trading them like baseball cards.

Everyone in this country has the right to choose what he or she does with his or her own body. I think these graphic images cross a line and even victimize smokers. Every time someone wants to light up, they have to display these gruesome photos to everyone around. And the bottom line here is that no one is going to stop smoking unless they choose to do so, and not without a significant amount of support and determination. Disturbing depictions of death are not going to help anyone quit.

The government is going too far with this campaign; they need to learn how to stay out of people’s everyday lives and deal with things that actually concern them, like fixing the economy and balancing the budget. Most people who decide to start smoking know the risks and are perfectly able to care for themselves. That means it is their decision, and no one should try to force them to behave in any certain way.

This issue is akin to the food stamp ban on soda and the fiasco in San Francisco over Happy Meal toys. You can’t force people to be healthier; the only thing these ridiculous rules accomplish is taking away people’s right to choose.

We really need to face the truth: the food stamp law, the Happy Meal law and the cigarette campaign are all unfairly biased against poorer Americans. The first one is obvious: poorer Americans use food stamps. They also get fast food more often and are more likely to smoke cigarettes (a claim backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). I can’t help but think these rules are really just a power trip. Most politicians and lawmakers are upper class and removed from the masses of Americans, especially from those below the poverty line. They can’t keep everyone from drinking soda, but they can use food stamps to keep poor people from drinking soda. Maybe their intentions are good, but it is still bias, and it is still wrong.

I think this bias and unbalance comes from something none of us want to admit: Americans are still prejudiced against low socio-economic status. This new cigarette law is evidence of that and of a government that has had its hands where they shouldn’t be for far too long.

Christen Mullett is a senior psychology major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].