The Center for Disease Control recently launched “Tips from Former Smokers,” an anti-smoking advertisement campaign expected to help about 50,000 smokers quit.
Launched in March, it is the first-ever national anti-smoking advertisement campaign created by a federal organization in the United States. According to the CDC, nearly one in five American adults smoke.
The CDC’s anti-smoking advertisements rely mostly on shock imagery and gross-out guilt. If you attended a public school between third and sixth grade, you know what kind of anti-smoking propaganda I’m talking about. If not, the ads are on Youtube.
Forget for a moment that smokers, according to The New York Times article, find these kinds of ads “alarming and demeaning.” Forget that if these commercials were produced by anyone other than the government, the Federal Communications Commission would saddle the ads with TV-MA ratings faster than you could say “Marlboro Man.”
Assume the campaign is successful. Say 50,000 smokers quit and the CDC pats itself on the back.
In 2008 the U.S. spent $147 billion on obesity-related health costs. In comparison, the U.S. spends $96 billion on smoking-related health care costs annually. So what about obesity?
A research team from the University of California blamed sugar for the country’s obesity epidemic.
Professor Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, proposed in February that the government implement a high sugar tax — in addition to an age restriction on the purchase of sugary goods — because sugar is just as “toxic” as alcohol and tobacco. He cites bans on public smoking, governmental requirements on air bags in automobiles, and the placement of condom dispensers in public bathrooms as precedent for government intervention in sugar.
“These simple measures — which have all been on the battleground of American politics — are now taken for granted as essential tools for our public health and well-being,” Lustig wrote in the science journal Nature. “It’s time to turn our attention to sugar.”
So let’s say the CDC launches another campaign, but instead of smoking, obesity — specifically sugar-related obesity — is the target. Instead of tips from smoking victims, you’ll get tips from Pixie Stix victims. When you sit down to watch prime-time T.V., instead of smoker’s with stomas and pictures of black lungs, you and your kids will get a front row seat to a gastric bypass surgery and pictures of fatty midriffs.
Assume the second ad campaign works, 50,000 obese Americans lose weight, and the CDC pats itself on the back again.
Consider this: unintended pregnancy is listed as a preventable disease in the Affordable Health and Patient Care Act. Just like smoking.
Not only will stomas and gastric bypass surgery be appearing on prime-time T.V., but also mothers complaining about how their preventable-disease children have ruined their lives. Suddenly “bastard child” doesn’t sound so bad.
“If [the anti-smoking] ad campaign helps people quit and prevents some from starting, it’s the right thing to do,” John Seffrin of the American Cancer Society told The New York Times.
So the ends justify the means. But do they? A government agency is using $54 million of tax money to convince 20 percent of the people paying those taxes to change their habits. What kind of precedent does that set, not just for sugar restrictions and the CDC, but for the government at large?