New Warning Labels on Cigarettes
In case you didn't know that smoking cigarettes can be harmful to your health, the Food and Drug Administration is trying to make that warning bigger and louder. They are using nine new graphic cigarette warning labels, which is part of the agency's sweeping new powers to regulate tobacco and tobacco products.
Cigarette packages will now carry one vivid color image and one of these warnings about the consequences of smoking: "Cigarettes are addictive"; "Tobacco smoke can harm your children"; "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease"; "Cigarettes cause cancer"; "Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease"; "Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby"; "Smoking can kill you"; "Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers"; and "Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health."
The warnings will cover the upper portion of the pack both front and back. Fifty percent of the package must be covered. The warnings must also cover at least 20% of a cigarette ad.
Small ads less than 12 inches don't have to cover as much, but must still have a warning. Each warning will also have a phone number -- 1-800-QUIT-NOW -- that smokers can call to get help if they want to quit.
"President Obama is committed to protecting our nation's children and the American people from the dangers of tobacco use. These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking and they will help," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in an FDA statement. "These labels will encourage smokers to quit and prevent children from smoking. President Obama wants to make tobacco-related death and disease part of the nation's past, and not our future."
The new packaging and ads must be in place by September 2012.
The move is a result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA), which mandates cigarette packs and advertisements have larger and "more visible graphic health warnings" as part of an effort to educate the public about the health risks associated with smoking.
"The Tobacco Control Act requires FDA to provide current and potential smokers with clear and truthful information about the risks of smoking -- these warnings do that," Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg said in the FDA statement.
Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for the the American Cancer Society, said the old labels have been virtually invisible because they're small and have been around for so long. He said people have become immune and don't really "see" them anymore, but the new labels will be hard to ignore and will help focus attention on the problem.
"It's the first change we've had in 25 years. This is going to be a very important element in the tobacco control tool box, but it's not a panacea," Glynn said. "For smokers, it's a new and very visible reminder that smoking can harm them, harm people around them, including children. For nonsmokers, it's a reminder that smokers need their help and concern as far as quitting. The labels are not just for smokers, the labels are for anyone interested in public health."
Glynn says about 20% of the population still smokes, a number that has been pretty steady over the past five years. He hopes the new labels will jump start a downward trend and re-ignite discussions about tobacco use.