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HHS Tobacco Plan: Too Little, Too Late, and Wrongheaded
Today's announcement that HHS will fight the almost $200 billion/yr tobacco epidemic primarily only by requiring bigger and more graphic warnings on cigarette packs and ads is too little, too late, and wrongheaded, says ASH
Dozens of countries have already adopted even bigger and more graphic warning messages on cigarette packs, so HHS is largely playing catchup on the world stage, but such warnings are still far less effective than the two proven most effective and zero-cost measures to reduce smoking - banning smoking and higher taxes - but HHS and the federal government are largely ignoring these very effective approaches, charges Banzhaf, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), America's first antismoking organization.
Just as HHS requires all recipients of grants and suppliers of products- including most colleges, virtually all states and cities, most major companies etc. - to have in place policies prohibiting discrimination based on factors like race and sex, it could easily require that all such institutions also prohibit smoking as a condition of receiving the grants.
Unlike today's announcement, which is hardly "the most significant change in 25 years" as HHS claims, and is likely to have only a small impact on the smoking epidemic, such a simple requirement would have a profound national impact because only 22 states - with less than 50% of the population - today had comprehensive nonsmokers' rights laws.
Banning smoking in workplaces and public places in most of the remainder of the country would persuade far more people to quit smoking or not to start than simply reminding them on the packs what most already know: that smoking causes cancer and heart disease, that secondhand smoke can harm children, etc.
It is ironic that, although today's new announcement stressed the harm of secondhand tobacco smoke to children, the federal government had played almost no role in the growing movement to protect kids for such exposure, including court orders in the majority of state prohibiting smoking in homes, bans on smoking around foster children in effect in more than a dozen states, and the growing number of laws to ban smoking in cars when kids are present.
Actively supporting and encouraging such measures would have a far more profound and longer-lasting impact on educating smokers than still more warnings. Simply putting into effect what Congress mandated, and nothing more, is not an appropriate response to a $195 billion a year problem, suggests ASH.
HHS, which plays the major role in administering the health care reform legislation, has done virtually noting to educate companies that the new law authorizes significant discounts for nonsmokers purchasing health insurance - a practice which is legally authorized not only after 2014 but also now - and a policy which, by charging smokers more for their health insurance, would likely have the same proven impact on reducing smoking as other financial disincentives such as higher tobacco taxes.
In addition to simply educating health insurance and other companies that they can offer nonsmoker discounts both now and in 2014, HHS could help require that all health insurance which are now offered to federal employees provide such an option to them, This in turn would almost certainly encourage them to offer similar plans with higher costs for smokers around the country, thereby precipitating a far more significant drop in smoking, and the huge costs smoking imposes on society, than graphic pictures on the sides of cigarette packs.
"As a practical matter, the federal government has done little to reduce smoking in more than forty years, with most of the effective innovations coming at the state and local level with bans on smoking in public places and higher cigarette taxes. Pictures on cigarette packs is a totally inadequate federal response to an epidemic which costs the American public almost $200 billion a year - most of which is paid by nonsmokers in the form of higher taxes and bloated health insurance premiums - especially where there are many effective, proven, evidence-based techniques which can be implemented immediately and at no cost to taxpayer," says Banzhaf.
PROFESSOR JOHN F. BANZHAF III
Professor of Public Interest Law at GWU,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
FELLOW, World Technology Network, and
Executive Director and Chief Counsel
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
America’s First Antismoking Organization
2013 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006, USA
(202) 659-4310 // (703) 527-8418
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Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), America's first anti-smoking and nonsmokers' rights organization, serves as the legal action arm of the anti-smoking community. It is supported by tax-deductible contributions.