I recently watched a comedy about a big tobacco lobbyist, “Thank You for Smoking” (2006). Throughout the film, a US Senator is pushing for a bill to add a skull and crossbones warning label to cigarette packing while Nick Naylor, the big tobacco lobbyist, thwarts the senator’s efforts. The senator argues that because cigarettes are harmful to one’s health, cigarette packing should have a skull and crossbones label (much like the labels seen on hazardous materials) to deter would-be purchasers.
During congressional hearings on the bill, Naylor makes an interesting point. Rather than deny the harmful health effects of cigarettes, which is what the audience expects at this point in the film, he agrees that cigarettes are harmful but adds that it is a personal choice for an individual to make bad decisions for his or her own body. Prior to Naylor’s rhetorical curve ball, the discussion surrounding the legality of the mandatory labeling centered on the issue of the health effects of cigarettes. This was clearly an uphill battle for big tobacco, as nearly everyone can agree that smoking is unhealthy. However, Naylor successfully changed the issue to one of personal choice. In effect, someone is only free if he or she can make his or her own decisions about his or her own body. This includes all decisions, both good and bad.
For instance, I agree with Naylor and the senator that cigarettes are extremely unhealthy and I would never touch cigarettes. However, to focus on this detail is to miss the point entirely. If people are to be free, they should be free to make their own decisions, even ones which I personally disagree. Smokers should be free from a mandatory labeling (to exercise their economic freedoms), and cigarette companies should be free to advertise as they see fit (to exercise freedom of speech), and non-government groups who are opposed to cigarettes should be free to inform the public of the health effects of cigarettes (to exercise their freedom of speech).Published in