June 21, 2011

Updated Cigarette Labels Shock And Disturb

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today released nine new warning labels that are now mandatory to include onto packs of cigarettes in the most drastic change in smoking-related advertising in 25 years, AP is reporting. The graphic labels depict in startling details the negative effects of prolonged smoking.

Among the images to appear are rotting and diseased teeth and gums and a man with a tracheotomy smoking a cigarette. Also included are the corpse of a smoker, diseased lungs, and a mother holding her baby with smoke swirling around them.

The packages include phrases like "Smoking can kill you" and "Cigarettes cause cancer".  Each label includes a national quit smoking hotline number and the new labels must be on cigarette packages and in advertisements no later than September 2012.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg were to discuss the nine new warnings at the White House. Sebelius said the goal was to stop children from starting to smoke and offer adults who want to quit some help.

"We have about 4,000 people under 18 who try their first cigarette and about 1,000 of them become permanent smokers, that's not good for our country," she told CBS television.
"This is really aimed at making sure kids don't start in the first place."

The labels will take up the top half of both the front and back of a pack of cigarette packs. Warning labels also must appear in advertisements and constitute 20 percent of the ad.

The updated labeling mandates 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, AP reports.

The announcement follows reviews of scientific literature, public comments and results from an FDA-contracted study of 36 labels proposed last November.

The FDA explained that the revised mandates will "clearly and effectively convey the health risks of smoking. These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking," Sebelius said in a statement.

Although the number of Americans who smoke has fallen dramatically since 1970, from nearly 40 percent to about 20 percent. These numbers have stalled since about 2004. About 46 million adults in the US smoke cigarettes.

Researchers are undecided as to why declines in smoking have stalled. Some experts have cited tobacco company discount coupons on cigarettes or lack of funding for programs to discourage smoking or to help smokers quit.

The new labels offer the opportunity for a pack-a-day smoker to see graphic warnings on the dangers of cigarettes more than 7,000 times per year. The FDA estimates the new labels will reduce the number of smokers by 213,000 in 2013, with smaller additional reductions through 2031.

Tobacco is responsible for about 443,000 deaths in the US a year and its use costs the US economy nearly $200 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity, the FDA said. Tobacco companies spend about $12.5 billion annually on cigarette advertising and promotion, according to the latest data from the Federal Trade Commission.

Concerns have been voiced over the hard-hitting nature of some of the labels. Those concerns should be trumped by the government's responsibility to warn people about the dangers of smoking, said David Hammond, a health behavior researcher at the University of Waterloo in Canada, who worked with the firm designing the labels for the FDA.

"This isn't about doing what's pleasant for people. It's about fulfilling the government's mandate if they're going to allow these things to be sold. What's bothering people is the risk associated with their behavior, not the warnings themselves." Hammond explained.


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