LSAT Logic and the New Cigarette Warning Labels

LSAT Blog Logic FDA Cigarette Warning LabelsLSAT Blog "Reader-of-the-Decade" Caleb already wrote an LSAT diary and a Logic Game for all of us.

He's back, and this time he's got an LSAT-style analysis of the reasoning behind the upcoming cigarette warning labels required by the FDA (PDF).

Thanks for Caleb for sharing his thoughts, and be sure to leave some comments letting him know what you think of his arguments.

Caleb's analysis:

If the LSAT gods smiled kindly upon you (they won’t) and said that an entire logical reasoning section was going to be based on the new Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, where would you start your studying?

Since you are a LSAT study-monster with aspirations of lawyerin’, this trip to fantasy land (my second home) could be beneficial in your preparation. After all, a key to crushing the LSAT is the ability to objectively analyze arguments without your personal opinions on the subject interfering with your ability to reason. And lots of people have strong views on smoking, right? “Eww! Smoke stinks and stays in my hair for days!” and “I do what I want” are two key opinions that come to mind.

First, let’s get a hold of the basic argument. You can read the text of the bill here (which I recommend), but since you’re lazy busy practicing for the games section I’ll try and give an objective summary. Then, we’ll take a look at pieces of the argument and try to bend and twist them to our will. And, since you will encounter varying levels of difficulty on LSAT questions, we’ll try and get as fiendish and dastardly clever as possible. Because you know the sadistic hobgoblins at the LSAT factory surely will. So let’s start with a summary:
Smoking is bad, mmkay. Tobacco causes damage both in terms of human health and economic impact. Tobacco use costs the US billions of dollars in healthcare and lost productivity. Tobacco companies target young smokers with their advertising. Nicotine is addictive and people who want to quit using it find it very difficult to do so. Lawmakers have an obligation and mandate to protect citizens- especially children- and should oversee and regulate the tobacco industry. An effective strategy to lower the number of smokers and stop underage children from starting is to place graphic images and warnings on tobacco products and advertising, and to ban any flavored cigarettes. Except menthols [true story].
I trained like a Jedi master for the LSAT- with Steve’s LSAT Blog as my lightsaber, of course- so I can’t even type that summary without my brain pumping out fifty different questions and counter-arguments that all bottleneck somewhere in my Broca’s Area (look it up, lazy). I’ll just step out for a second, have a smoke, and come back so we can start in!

Ahh, that’s the stuff.

Now, let’s start with the immortal words of me:

“All reasoning starts with questioning.” –Caleb Shreves

You’re welcome. Here are a few obvious questions that popped into my head while typing that summary:

1. Why is there an economic impact from healthcare and lost productivity?
2. Is tobacco advertising responsible for people smoking? If so, to what degree?
3. How are tobacco companies targeting minors?
4. Why is regulation and, specifically, using graphic warnings an effective deterrent to smoking?
5. Why should legal adult practices be regulated by Government?
6. Why does banning flavored tobacco lower smoking rates?
7. How is “lost productivity” defined and measured?

Add a few of your own. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Now let’s take some of the questions I posed and think of how an LSAT test-maker might think to incorporate them. Here are some easy ideas:

Strengthen: Other countries have implemented similar policies and found them to be effective in deterring tobacco use.

Necessary Assumption: Flavored cigarettes are attractive to minors

Conclusion (inference): The fewer minors who start smoking, the more money the country will save.

Try a few on your own! You should be able to come up with quite a few of these easy ones pretty quickly, and you’ll likely face a few test questions built off these types of low-hanging fruit. But let’s take it up a notch and expand some of these arguments to make them a little more complex. Here’s something based off my dad’s cynical argument, which I call “dying is cheaper.”

End of life care is, by far, the most expensive piece of the healthcare pie. Tobacco users die, on average, ten years sooner than non-users. Thus, tobacco users are doing everyone else a favor.

Great work, dad. Any questions spring to mind when you read that argument? How about a sample LSAT setup to help you out:

Dr. A: “Healthcare costs should be a primary concern when dealing with tobacco regulation. Hence, we should find ways to reduce the number of smokers.”

Dr. B: “I agree that healthcare costs are a primary concern, which is why I encourage more people to start smoking.”

See any conflicting assumptions here? This could be the start of a “the two doctors disagree about…” type question, or a “which statement, if true, would lend support to Dr. A’s conclusion…” type question. Now that we’re this far, let’s scramble the answer up, LSAT style, and get tricksy. Consider which Dr. would be validated by the following evidence:

“Recent studies have shown that treatments for certain common long-term illnesses requiring regular hospital care increase in total healthcare cost at an exponential rate as the person with the illness ages.”

Tricksy indeed! Read the setup again; the doctors are disagreeing about whether the costs of a tobacco-related death outweigh the costs of living an additional 10 years, tobacco-free. If common illnesses cost a crap-ton more every year as you age, then people dying early would, in fact, probably save money! This would be good for Dr. B (surprise- that was dad’s side of the argument!). But you can see how a few questions about an argument, combined with some assumptions, and sprinkled with fuzzy language can give you a pretty nasty LSAT question.

Finally, let’s work together and come up with something really nasty. How about we start with the FDA’s argument about minors:

A primary reason that minors begin using tobacco is the prevalence of advertising they are exposed to. Thus, we should require that tobacco advertisements on billboards and posters contain gruesome and graphic pictures of the consequences of tobacco use.

Allllllrighty then, FDA. What are the assumptions here? Well, first we would assume that minors actually see tobacco advertising, right? Do they? We would need to assume that the advertising that minors see actually affects whether or not they use tobacco wouldn’t we? Why would graphic images stop a minor from smoking? Don’t minors see graphic images on TV and in video games every day? What if studies showed that minors actually become desensitized by graphic imagery and were more likely to use tobacco if this policy were in place? Asking questions like this can immediately help point out the assumptions of any argument- and, accordingly, help you determine how an LSAT question might be framed by them.

Fun (and true) fact: tobacco brands that are heavily-advertised are much more likely to be used by minors than adults. But what if this were reversed? If minors were less likely than adults to smoke heavily-advertised brands, wouldn’t that mean that the advertising doesn’t affect them? (if you’re questioning even this, then you are well on your way to true LSAT dominance). Going with this theme, I would expect a test answer to include a convoluted piece of evidence that showed a link between advertised brands and what minors actually smoked. For starters, we could weaken the FDA’s argument with a statement like:

“A recent study of smokers aged 12-16 found them to have a distinct preference for Brand X cigarettes, a brand that advertises its products far less than its area competitors.”

Okay, we can grasp that. Kids smoke even without the advertising, so advertising ain’t a big deal like the FDA said. But let’s step out farther and imagine some of the fiendish tricks used by the LSAT hobgoblins. How would the LSAT refute this last statement?

“Legislation passed in the last year has forced Brand X to dramatically reduce its advertising budget.”

Now hold on a minute. Maybe these kids had already been exposed to Brand X! Timeline trickery, that is (and one that the LSAT uses sometimes, trust me). Imagine a “which answer, if true, would provide the LEAST support for…” type question on this, using evidence to prove something that is counter to what’s true in the real world, couching it in fuzzy language, and throwing a trick answer in to boot. You can see how the LSAT can take simple things and make them vastly more complicated. Reminds me of my girlfriend.

What’s the point of all this hypothetical nonsense you ask? The more you can quickly and automatically pre-form arguments and assumptions in your mind, the better you’ll do on test day. If every day you take an issue like this and spend 10-15 minutes thinking of how you would create test questions, you will make neural pathways in your brain that will give you X-ray logic-vision when reading new and unfamiliar arguments.

And that sounds good, right? Plus, you might just start seeing the issues you encounter in daily life in a new light, too. Like smoking. Whatever your views on smoking happen to be, I challenge you to look critically at the reasoning behind the decisions made by our Government on this issue. If you can come away saying “nope, looks like they’re air-tight!” then good luck on test day. But I would wager my Xbox and all my Halo games that you’ll at least be a bit more skeptical of these policies and the true rationale behind them if you take the time to examine them. And I don’t wager my Halo-goodness lightly, either.


P.S. While I encourage you read the full text of H.R. 1256, I can’t resist showing you item #4 in the “findings” section of the bill:

“Virtually all new users of tobacco products are under the minimum legal age to purchase such products.”

I started smoking at age 26. Should I call my senator?


  1. Virtually would be synonymous with "most", which does include the possibility of "not all". So, one person (you) not beginning smoking until you were 26 doesn't disallow their use of "virtually all...".

    Although, I immediately wonder what they mean when they say "new users". Do they mean "users" in the sense of people who try it only once? Or users equals those who routinely smoke (e.g. 1-2 packs a week, etc.)

    Their definition of users heavily impacts their argument. If "users" meant only those who try it once, but of those "users" only 10-20 percent became regular uses and only those who are regular users risk their health by smoking, their data point isn't really telling.

  2. Hey Caleb,

    This is Neblina, the lone soldier you once helped out with some of my lsat questions. You are so awesome and I am so excited for you to start law school, not sure which one you ended up at, but I am sure you are happy!

    So I must admit, it is still early in the morning for me and I read your post a couple of days ago and I am too damn lazy to review it again....HOWEVER, I would like to make one critique to your line of thinking regarding more smokers equals shorter lives equals less public money spent on healthcare keeping people alive.

    If we used your line of reasoning, then the government would be justified to NOT pursue many public health campaigns regarding drug use/addictions or even diseases such as cancer because well it would save the public purse. You are going down a slipperly slope.

    I am no law student yet; however I understand that weighing of different principles (ie. cost effectiveness and public welfare (aka living the best life possible) in various cases must be examined.

    I would hope that public health campaigns are for the betterment and improvment of human lives...if the government was like 'well can't really spend too much effort on prolonging your life Mr. Smokeer/Cancer/AIDS patient etc. so we are just going to lay off (not completely of course we would not want to look barbaric) as you cost too much.

    I would also hope that it is a democratic principle that most people have concurred that they are willing to have their public monies spent on such things even though it is EXTREMELY expensive.

    Now, I am not saying dump all our cash regardless of the outcome, you are probably aware of cost/benefit analysis in regards to unit of effort to prolong life and the unit of benefit created, if the added benefit is so minute but the cost is so great...then at that point (at least in my humble opinion) we need to lay off. Of course palliative care does just that, they know there is no more hope so they just try to make the pain less as the life draws to a close, which is not always very expensive (if we were really barbaric then we would just pull the plug whenever, but then again, does the government have the right to end life when it becomes too don't think so. (I understand we are verging on various ethical debates here which the LSAT so kindly uses as juice for their LR questions)

    I am not sure if my argument is air tight, but it is just a thought to keep in mind.

    ps. thank you for all your support, i am now averaging 165+ and I am super psyched for the October LSAT.


  3. Anon-

    Busted. I *did* confuse "virtually" with "literally". Still, you are correct that it is vaguely defined and poorly supported. Also, the sources they site for that point are based on studies that are shady at best. And, to note, in the most recent smoking study by the CDC they finally broke down smokers into different groups (number of cigarettes per week, etc.). Like you warned about, they used to include someone who had ever smoked one cigarette as a "user." That was dumb.

  4. Neblina-

    Hey! Great to hear from you and glad your studying is going well. If you are already at 165 then another couple months of hard study (you study hard, right?) should get you average above 170. Keep at it!

    As to your point, I posed it first to my dad since he is the one who came up with the theory. He says: (paraphrasing)

    "Exactly. That's why the government should keep its bill out of *every* "public health effort" (whatever the hell that means). Why should everyone have to pay the government to coerce people into stopping voluntary behaviors? People should be left to their own devices without the government coming in and telling them what's good for them. And if they die early, from drugs or cigarettes or whatever, they're not only living their life according to their own principles they're also saving everyone money. It's win-win, baby! And remember, if you don't have the freedom to make dumb choices then you don't have freedom at all."

    ^good stuff, dad.

    My side... I agree with a lot of what my dad says. He's not actually as barbaric as it seems- he just believes strongly that the government shouldn't be there to force good behavior on people. You should hear him rant about seat belt laws!

    I bring up the "cost" point not to advocate the abandonment of all public welfare, only to refute the argument that smokers actually COST money to the nation and so public health initiatives to lower smoking rates are some sort of magical we-save-money-for-everyone policy. The government could still say that smoking is bad and they're going to try and get people to stop smoking because it's a good thing, but don't give me any bullshit about it saving money. It doesn't.

    Plus, I generally get peeved when I hear all of the anti-smoking arguments. Virtually all (like that, anon?) smoke-haters are too cowardly to come out and admit their true motivation for smoking laws, policies, bans, etc. What is that motivation you ask? Simple- they hate smoking and smokers and there's more of them than you.

    Public health? Please- I could list 10 things that would be easier, cheaper, and more beneficial. There should be a term for the opposite of "low-hanging fruit."

    Save money? Nope- studies back up my claim that lowering smoking rates actually *increases* the cost to a nation.

    Protect employees? Bullshit. People can choose where they work, there are a ton of good options in technology to eliminate smoke from an area, and reasonable compromises are easy to find.

    It's good for you? This one at least is a maybe. You could say "you shouldn't smoke cuz it's bad so I'm not going to let you." and I could say "Yeah, but I'm a grown man and I'll do what I want." We would disagree (and you'd be a nannying moron) but at least it's closer to honesty.

    But no. It's simply that some people hate smoking and cigarettes. They don't like to ever see it, or walk near it, or maybe they had to endure it at home or work or something before there were bans. They held a grudge and waited till they were the majority, then they pounced and forced a bunch of public measures down our throats under the guise of "public health."

    Cowards. Cravens. It's a rare few that will openly say "yeah, I don't like smokers so I'm going to pass laws restricting where you smoke and making sure it's expensive. F*ck you."

    They might be awful, but I have more respect for them than the sniveling do-gooders who try and regulate others into behavior they deem appropriate.

  5. Also, to address your ethical debate points, I would ask you: why is it the job of government to better and improve human lives?

    I'd rather see a government that created a fair system for citizens to improve their own, and each others, lives.

    Thanks for riling me up this morning, Neblina! I love discussions like this... and hopefully you do too. The more you do, and the more you think about them, the better prepared you will be to rock the LSAT in October. If you have more LSAT questions and Steve isn't getting back to you quickly enough (though he pretty much always does), feel free to email me. I still remember *some* stuff about the LSAT.

    Good luck!

    Caleb out.

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