On Wednesday, the DC federal district court delivered a victory to proponents of free speech by butting out new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. At issue was the question of whether the federal government could force tobacco companies to place gruesome images on their products in the name of public safety. The First Amendment compelled the answer to be no.
No less a luminary than Thomas Jefferson explained that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.” Were it otherwise, citizens would become mere appendages of the state, forced to regurgitate politically correct themes. Today that might be corpses on cigarette packages, tomorrow it could be heart attack victims on hamburger wrappings, and next year perhaps rotting teeth on soda cans. Our proud American tradition of self-governance stands in opposition to this approach and admits another truth – “in a free society one’s beliefs should be shaped by his mind and his conscience rather than coerced by the State.”
Importantly, cigarette packages already display prominent health warnings associated with their use. The most recent FDA legal change amounted to a state-driven marketing campaign to shock and scare potential consumers out of smoking rather than to inform them. Of course, plentiful remedies exist in civil society for dealing with all sorts of unhealthy and unwise conduct. By recognizing that individuals possess the capacity to learn, grow, and make healthy choices themselves and that state-driven marketing campaigns smother that ability, the DC district court secured an important win for the First Amendment and liberty in general.