Chatterbox would like to take up the invitation that Philip Morris USA extends in a new "Change & Tobacco" series of newspaper ads to "open a dialogue" with the American people. (To see the first ad, click here or check out the Op-Ed page of the March 24 New York Times. To read a press release about the new ad campaign, click here.) It's an auspicious time for Philip Morris to be launching such a dialogue, because the Supreme Court just ruled against the Food and Drug Administration's bid to regulate tobacco, and the chances that Congress will legislate meaningful tobacco regulation appear slim. Since the government isn't likely to force tobacco manufacturers to change their behavior in any way, it's left to citizens like Chatterbox to ask them.
Here are a few questions Chatterbox has for Philip Morris:
- Would you stop manufacturing cigarettes, please?
- How about if I said, "pretty please"?
- Oh, it isn't that you want to make money selling cigarettes. It's that you have too much respect for the rights of people who want to smoke cigarettes because they're addicted to them.
- But if they keep smoking, aren't they liable to die of heart disease or lung cancer, for which you now admit smoking is a "risk factor"? (Last time I checked, you guys were still a little fuzzy about whether it's an itty-bitty risk factor or the big fat risk factor we all know it to be.)
- OK, you don't want them to die. You are, in fact, somewhat sorry that they do die, because then they can no longer exercise their God-given right to keep buying cigarettes.
- Then how do you stay in business?
- Ah. There's an endless supply of teen-agers who like to smoke. You don't want them to smoke; you're always saying only adults should smoke; you've taken a few PR-conscious steps to prevent them from smoking; but if they're going to smoke anyway, you can't help that.
- Why don't you want teen-agers to smoke? If smoking poses nothing more than an indeterminate "risk factor" for heart disease and lung cancer, why should any of us care whether they smoke? Please don't use that familiar dodge that it's "inappropriate."
- OK, you're saying that the medical risks, whatever they are, can't properly be weighed by a minor. What if I were to tell you that just about everything I know about physiology derives from a biology class I took my junior year in high school? (As an adult, I never went to medical school.) Anyway, if the magnitude of the medical risks can't even be assessed by Philip Morris, a big corporation that employs umpteen scientists with great expertise in this field, what are the chances that the rest of us, kids or grown-ups, will be able to assess those risks, ever?
- Where on earth did you get the idea that a reasonable "dialogue" could be held about your selling an addictive substance that mows down 400,000 Americans each year? Yes, we as a society are going to let you keep selling cigarettes. Why isn't that enough? Why do we have to like you, too?
Chatterbox looks forward to reading answers to these questions in the next ad in the "Change & Tobacco" series.