BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the health world
New cigarette warning labels unveiled
By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots Blog
11:23 AM EDT, June 22, 2011
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday unveiled a group of graphic images and messages that will cover the top half of every cigarette package in the United States starting in fall 2012.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post said graphic images meant to warn of tobacco's health hazards would appear on cigarette packs beginning this fall. They will appear on packs beginning in fall 2012.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said her agency estimated that the new campaign could induce as many as 213,000 established smokers in the United States to quit in its first year.
Starting Sept. 22, 2012, all cigarette packages sold in the U.S. must bear the images and warnings. Some 30 other countries, including Canada and most European nations, already require cigarettes to display graphic warnings prominently on their packaging.
The step is the most dramatic anti-smoking move by the FDA since the agency was given new responsibility to regulate tobacco products. It is also marks the first time in 25 years that health warnings on tobacco products have been updated beyond the bland statement that the surgeon general has determined cigarette smoking to be harmful to health.
The new raft of images — nine in all — were winnowed down from a group of 36 considered by the FDA. The images include that of a recently autopsied cadaver with the stark warning, "Smoking can kill you," as well as an image of a smoker blowing smoke out of a tracheostomy hole in his throat, which warns, "Cigarettes are addictive."
Some of the images and warnings appear to be aimed at appealing to smokers' concern for the effects their habit has on others: "Tobacco smoke can harm your children," says one of the warnings, with the image of a toddler clutched to the chest of an adult as a swirl of smoke hovers in the air nearby. Another, showing a woman weeping, bears the statement: "Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers."
All of the images include not only a warning in text, but also the number of a smoking cessation hotline, which will route callers to local resources ready to help them quit. Every year, 40% of smokers try to kick the habit, but the odds are against them: Fewer than one in 10 of those who try to quit succeed.
In choosing the new warning labels the FDA ruled out a number of far more disturbing images, including a shadowy photograph of a bald lung cancer victim.
Hamburg, in an interview Tuesday morning, said the new labels would be "an important and powerful tool" in inducing smokers to quit and in deterring nonsmokers from taking up the habit. Hamburg said the FDA would continue to study the effectiveness of the images, and would probably update them after about a year to keep the images and their message fresh in consumers' minds.