Warning Labels for Food Stamps (2011 Apr)

by Barry A. Liebling

What do cigarettes and food stamps have in common? Both are used by millions of people, and both are extremely addictive and harmful. The deleterious health effects of smoking cigarettes has been documented for decades, and it is hard to find anyone who seriously maintains that tobacco is on balance a beneficial substance. While the corrosive effects of food stamps are substantial many people do not recognize how noxious and far-reaching this government-run program really is.

How are cigarettes and food stamps different? The government is officially against cigarettes. For many years cigarette manufacturers have been required to have warnings printed on packages and on advertising that informs readers that tobacco can lead to heart disease, cancer, birth defects, and other maladies. These warnings are designed by the government to encourage smokers to quit, to discourage citizens from taking up the smoking habit, and to vilify the tobacco companies as the purveyor of tainted products.

The government at the federal and state level is the official sponsor of food stamps. The federal component is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and it issues electronic cash benefits that can be used at authorized food stores. Rather than warning people of the long term bad effects of food stamps, the government has sought to vastly increase the number of citizens who participate in the food stamp program – especially during the past two years. There are currently more people receiving SNAP cash than ever before, and the number of recipients continues to grow.

Recently the Justice Department has decided that the informational campaign against tobacco companies has not been vigorous enough. It has released 14 “corrective statements” that it wants cigarette manufactures to include in an advertising campaign. The statements are confessions that the companies acted in bad faith and deliberately and maliciously pushed unwholesome products on the American public. Of course, the tobacco companies object and maintain that these “corrective statements” go too far.


Suppose something highly unlikely were to occur. What if the federal and state governments were required to make “corrective statements” about the inherent dangers of the food stamp program. How would these statements compare to those that the Justice Department is proposing for tobacco companies?

Consider three of the tobacco “corrective statements” that have received a lot of attention and how a similar approach might apply to food stamps.

The Justice Department wants the cigarette manufacturers to advertise that “Smoking kills 1,200 Americans. Every day.”

A parallel food stamp “corrective statement” regarding harm could say, “Government welfare programs, including food stamps, are poisonous to the spirit of everyone involved. It discourages citizens who are recipients from living independent lives and makes them long-term wards of the state. The money used to pay for food stamps is forcibly taken from productive citizens without their permission – violating their property rights. The administrators of the programs are encouraged by the government to regard themselves – illegitimately – as the permanent supervisors of their “clients’” lives.

The Justice Department has a statement about the motives of the tobacco companies. It wants them to say, “We falsely marketed low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes to keep people smoking and sustain our profits.”

Applying the same logic to food stamps the government could admit that, “We deliberately increased the number of people on the food stamp program in our effort to grow the welfare state and to maximize the number of citizens who will continue to vote for candidates that support an ever expanding welfare system. We understand that getting cash grants for food is very addictive. Once someone gets used to receiving cash grants he will be incentivized to do whatever it takes to keep the money coming. A person in the habit of eating on the government’s dime is highly susceptible to politicians who promise to maintain his welfare payments.”

The Justice Department is insisting that cigarette manufacturers confess to having vile motives when it asks them to state that, “We control nicotine delivery to create and sustain smokers’ addiction, because that’s how we keep customers coming back.”

And what are the motives of the food stamp establishment? They might admit that “We deliberately switched from the clumsy, potentially embarrassing paper food stamps to the much better looking and easy to administer debit card payment system. This makes it more attractive for welfare recipients to remain on the government dole and eases the burden on retail establishments to participate in the program. Once store owners get used to the electronic payments from SNAP they too will be addicted and will use their political clout to maintain and expand the food stamp program. And these businesses will support our long-term goal of ballooning the welfare state.”

How do cigarettes and food stamps compare? Both are bad for you. Cigarettes impair physical health, while food stamps are corrosive to the human spirit. The government works to thwart cigarette manufacturers, while it tirelessly strives to expand the use of food stamps. You cannot count on the government to make “corrective statements” on the toxicity of food stamps. You’ll have to do it yourself.

*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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