More graphic warning labels debuting on cigarette packs
FDA to release images today
RICHMOND, Va. — In the most significant change to US cigarette packs in 25 years, the Food and Drug Administration is set to release nine new warning labels today that will depict in graphic detail the negative health effects of tobacco use. Among the possible images are rotting and diseased teeth and gums and a man with a tracheotomy smoking.
The labels will take up the top half of a pack — both front and back — of cigarette packs. Warning labels also must appear in advertisements and constitute 20 percent of an ad. Cigarette makers have until fall 2012 to comply.
Mandates to introduce new graphic warning labels were part of a law passed in 2009 that, for the first time, gave the federal government authority to regulate tobacco, including setting guidelines for marketing and labeling, banning certain products, and limiting nicotine. The law doesn’t let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco.
The announcement follows reviews of scientific literature, public comments, and results from an FDA-contracted study of 36 labels proposed last November, which included corpses of smokers, cancer patients, and diseased lungs.
Some of the labels proposed last year include a mother blowing smoke in her baby’s face and cigarettes being flushed down the toilet to signify quitting. They include phrases like “Smoking can kill you’’ and “Cigarettes cause cancer’’ and feature graphic images to convey the dangers of tobacco, which is responsible for about 443,000 deaths in the United States per year.
Whether the federal government chose to go with more hard-hitting images for the new labels or more subtle messages like illustrations of a smoker being controlled by strings like a marionette remains a question.
In recent years, more than 30 countries or jurisdictions have introduced labels similar to those being introduced by the FDA. The United States first mandated the use of warning labels stating “Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health’’ in 1965.
“For a product that kills as many people as smoking, what is the right level of a warning? There are people that are going to argue that so long as they’re going to sell these things in corner stores, they government has a responsibility to warn people to the full extent possible,’’ David Hammond, a health behavior researcher who worked with the firm designing the labels for the FDA.