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Label it ironic

By voting 15-to-1 to require a stronger warning label on cigarette packages, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee was in effect doing an end run on the type of glossy magazine and newspaper advertisements so frequently found touting tobacco products. Cigarette advertising - and, indeed, newer cigarette products - are now often aimed at younger people and women, two of the key target groups of the tobacco industry. The proposed new warning label, among other things, would address the issue of cigarette smoking and pregnancy.

Congressional sentiment now appears fairly strong for enactment of a more detailed, tougher warning label. Warning labels first appeared on cigarettes back in 1964. Congress also banned tobacco advertising from television.

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Given the attention of lawmakers to warning labels and the nature of television advertising, it thus still strikes many observers including ourselves as ironic that the United States government continues to fund a major tobacco agricultural support program. The federal tobacco program involves, among other things, a complex quota system and price supports.

Granted, there are the obvious political and social ramifications. Tobacco farmers are to a large extent located in important Southeastern states courted by both national parties. Many tobacco farmers also require federal financial help so that they can raise other crops. But at a time when economists are increasingly urging Uncle Sam to gradually withdraw from costly crop support programs in general, it seems the height of inconsistency for the government to be so eager to prop up and encourage the growth O - mOop - tobacco - that it is at the same time warning people about.

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