KHI News Service

FDA unveils new graphic warning labels for cigarettes

By Phil Cauthon | November 10, 2010

Center for Tobacco Products, FDA

One of the proposals for new graphic warning labels to be required on all cigarette packages sold in the U.S. by Oct. 22, 2012.

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Center for Tobacco Products, FDA

Another of the proposals for new cigarette warning labels.

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Brazilian Health Ministry

Cigarette warning labels in other countries are often much more graphic than the ones proposed today for the U.S. market. Above are Brazil's latest warning labels, which were designed to be aimed at younger potential smokers.

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The FDA today unveiled its proposed warning labels for cigarette packages designed to discourage children from smoking and to encourage smokers to quit.

Once implemented on Oct. 22, 2012, half the surface of every cigarette package sold in the U.S. will contain one of nine new warning labels.

The labels range from more graphic images of diseased lungs and cadavers to cartoon renderings of smoking’s hazards. (View variations on all 36 proposed labels—PDF.)

“Today, FDA takes a crucial step toward reducing the tremendous toll of illness and death caused by tobacco use by proposing to dramatically change how cigarette packages and advertising look in this country. When the rule takes effect, the health consequences of smoking will be obvious every time someone picks up a pack of cigarettes,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg. ”This is a concrete example of how FDA’s new responsibilities for tobacco product regulation can benefit the public’s health.”

While tobacco distribution has long been subject to regulation, the tobacco control law of 2009 gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products themselves for the first time.

None of the 36 proposed images are as shocking as labels that have been common in other countries since 2001. Singapore, Thailand, Brazil and other countries require autopsy-style photos of smoking hazards, like mouth cancer, heart disease and rotting teeth.

FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura said that the images selected for the U.S. market reflect the different cultural norms here than in countries employing more gruesome warning labels.

"The intent is not to shock," Ventura said. "We’re coming at it from an educational perspective, not a shock perspective."

"When we say ‘graphic’ we are referring to the visual quality of the message, not that it’s gratuitous. The reality is, smoking isn’t pretty. These images do appropriately convey—in a very blunt way—the health consequences of smoking," he said.

The 36 proposed warning labels will be narrowed to nine by June 22, 2011, after accepting public comment on the images for two months. Cigarette manufacturers will then have just over a year to phase in the final labels, which must cover the top half of both the front and back of individual cigarette packages and cartons.

Mary Jayne Hellebust of Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition said she’s pleased to see that the FDA’s new regulatory authority is showing results, even if it will be two years before smokers see the new warning labels.

“We are seeing more action at the federal level than we have ever seen, based on laws that Congress has passed,” she said. “Coupled with the new clean indoor air law in Kansas, the recent federal cigarette tax increases, cessation treatment as part of the prevention provisions in public and private health insurance and additional state aid for tobacco prevention (programs) will certainly help adults to stop smoking and prevent youth from starting such an addictive, deadly process.”


Ending the Tobacco Epidemic

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The FDA action is part of a department-wide strategy that was announced today by the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS also released a broad tobacco control strategic action plan, “Ending the Tobacco Epidemic,” which outlines specific, evidence-based actions designed to drastically reduce tobacco-related death and disease.

“Every day, almost 4,000 youth try a cigarette for the first time and 1,000 youth become regular, daily smokers,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Today marks an important milestone in protecting our children and the health of the American public.”

In addition to the FDA and HHS announcements today, other recent tobacco control and prevention efforts include:

• The Affordable Care Act is giving Americans in private and public health plans access to recommended preventive care, like tobacco use cessation, at no additional cost.

• The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invested $225 million to support local, state and national efforts to promote comprehensive tobacco control and expand tobacco quitlines.

• The Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act (PACT) aims to stop the illegal sale of tobacco products over the Internet and through mail order, including the illegal sale to youth.

• The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) gives FDA the authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing and distribution of tobacco products. Significant progress has already been made by restricting the use of the terms “light,” “low,” and “mild,” banning characterizing fruit, candy, and spice, flavors from cigarettes, and putting in place restrictions on the sale and distribution of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to youth.


The proposed new cigarette warning labels

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• The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) raised the federal cigarette tax by 62 cents per pack. Raising the price of tobacco products is a proven way to reduce tobacco use, especially among price-sensitive populations such as youth.

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