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FDA Unveils Graphic New Warning Labels for Cigarettes

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Warning: Cigarettes are addictive.It once was difficult for people to imagine that smoking might be harmful, as Siddhartha Mukherjee documents in The Emperor of All Maladies (Scribner, 2010). He quotes Oxford epidemiologist Richard Peto, who explained that during the 1940s, when almost all U.S. men smoked, "asking about an association between tobacco and cancer was like asking about an association between sitting and cancer."

Today, things are different, to the point where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now released a series of graphic, often disgusting warnings that will soon adorn every pack of cigarettes sold in this country. To paraphrase the one-time catchphrase for Virginia Slims: We’ve come a long way.

Under the new rules, tobacco companies have until September 2012 to redesign their packaging so that each pack features one of the nine hard-to-miss warnings, which are much more direct than what Americans are used to and will take up more space on each box—50 percent of the front and the back. The new warnings skip the mention of any surgeons general and get right to the point, with text such as, "WARNING: Smoking can kill you," and "WARNING: Cigarettes cause cancer."

The accompanying images—which include a cancerous lip, a man smoking through a hole in his neck, and a stitched-up corpse—are difficult to ignore. (According the Washington Post, the FDA considered but ultimately rejected even more morbid imagery of corpses in coffins and morgues.)

Each label also includes the number 1-800-QUIT-NOW, a government-sponsored smoking cessation hotline.

"These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking and they will help encourage smokers to quit, and prevent children from smoking," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a prepared statement. "President Obama wants to make tobacco-related death and disease part of the nation’s past."

The new warnings, first proposed in November 2010, are the result of the widely supported Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act, which also gave the FDA the power to regulate tobacco products and banned flavored cigarettes and clove cigarettes.

Canada paved the way for warning labels with pictures back in 2000, and since then, they have been implemented in more than 30 countries. (Brazil’s warnings are especially gruesome.) Several studies and government surveys have found that warning labels that use pictures are more difficult to ignore and more effective in educating consumers about the risks of smoking and in motivating smokers to quit. Still, as one 2007 paper noted, "warning labels are one component of comprehensive tobacco control and smoking cessation efforts."

For advocacy groups such as the American Cancer Society, these types of warnings have been a long time coming.

In the summer of 1957, Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney wrote a cautious, ultimately historic statement that marked the U.S. Public Health Service’s first warning of the link between smoking and cancer: "It is clear that there is an increasing and consistent body of evidence that excessive cigarette smoking is one of the causative factors in lung cancer."

But the real bombshell came in 1964, when a commission organized by the Kennedy administration—after prodding from the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and other groups—completed its review of more than 7,000 studies. The commission’s official report laid out the grim findings. Smokers had a 70 percent higher mortality rate than non-smokers and were almost 10 times as likely to develop lung cancer. Smoking was also correlated with emphysema, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and low birth weight in newborns. That’s all old news now, but at the time, the report rocked a happily chain-smoking nation, not to mention the tobacco industry.

The very next year, after not-so-successfully battling the tobacco lobby, Congress passed a law requiring a timid warning on the side panels of cigarettes packs (but not in ads): "Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health." The message was made slightly more emphatic in 1969, when the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act also banned cigarette advertising on television and radio. But it was not until the Comprehensive Smoking Education Act of 1984 that Congress mandated the Surgeon General’s Warnings that are so ubiquitous today and will themselves seem so toothless in just a few years.

 

Image: Courtesy of FDA





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  1. 1. JamesDavis 7:01 am 06/22/2011

    If cigarettes can do that to our health, and there is still no proof that smoking cigarettes causes any of those illnesses, can you imaging what oil, gas, coal, and natural gas smoke stacks and car tailpipes are doing to all our health! How do they know that it is not people living in these heavily polluted areas of oil, auto, coal, and natural gas that has most, if not all, these pollution related diseases? I have been smoking cigarettes and cigars since I was five-years-old and I am in excellent health and my lungs are as clean as a non-smoker’s lungs. How do they explain the American Indians who has smoked tobacco all their lives and some of them live to be over a hundred-years-old and no pollution related diseases?

    If tobacco is so dangerous, and causes so many illnesses, and causes so many deaths; why don’t they make tobacco illegal like they did pot? The only thing putting pictures of sick people on cigarette packs will incite is peoples’ understanding of how ignorant our doctors and government is. It also proves that the people who is doing this is kinda stupid.

    Link to this
  2. 2. TEFinnegan 1:31 pm 06/22/2011

    @James Davis> You stated: // If tobacco is so dangerous, and causes so many illnesses, and causes so many deaths; why don’t they make tobacco illegal like they did pot? //

    There some problems with the logic of that question:

    You are lumping pot in with tobacco as a lethal substance. Cannabis is NOT lethal! Cannabis has many healing properties, the reason it is illegal is because the petro-chemical/pharma industries could not profit from it.

    Link to this
  3. 3. TEFinnegan 1:32 pm 06/22/2011

    @stew6302> Isn’t it time for you to go pray or something?

    Link to this
  4. 4. SlackLineAddict 1:37 pm 06/22/2011

    Wow, Jamesdavis is naive and selfish. So you would like to ignore medical evidence and promote expensive tobacco addictions and painful diseases just because "you smoke cigarettes and are healthy"? A retired tennis pro admitted to using meth and he looks healthy. By your logic, we should allow children to get addicted to meth too.

    Link to this
  5. 5. AdamArgue 1:55 pm 06/22/2011

    Smoking causes cancer, period. When you inhale smoke you are consuming high doses of large planer molecules that resemble the shape the bases in our DNA (carcinogens). They are able to sneak into are DNA. Once accepted in the genetic code mutations will arise and it is up to our biological "proofreading" processes to catch them during DNA replication. You, among other lucky people, may have better developed proofreading processes which will help in reducing the mutation rate. However, mutations left unchanged can cause a number of ill-effects on the body; cancer being the most dominant. Pure tobacco has less carcinogens then the tobacco processed by cigarette companies thus increasing mutation rates in populations who strictly smoke cigarettes. Native indians do not smoke tobacco that has been processed to the same level as cigarettes. Their life-styles are also phyically demading thus increasing their overall fitness which can help reverse damage done to your body. Pot is a whole other argument. I believe the government allows tobacco to be illegal because it has little to no psycoactive effects. For some reason (probably caused by the stigma hippies in the 60′s/70′s created by being irrisbolsible) the government doesn’t like its citizens using psycoactive drugs. In my eyes, it should be the addictive, harmful drugs (tobacco, alcohol, etc) that should be banned. Responsible pot users know moderation is key. Coming from experience, moderating consumtion of pot is much easier than moderation of tobacco based on the level of dependency created on the user. Yes fossil fuel emissions cause ill health effects but our society has unfortunatly become dependent on fossil fuels, which makes it very difficult to change. However, cigarettes are completely unnecessary to our society (other then the economical gain). You may be lucky for the rest of your life and never become ill from smoking but know that everytime you smoke you are putting your body at risk.

    Link to this
  6. 6. ldgregg 11:44 pm 06/22/2011

    I only wish the FDA was this diligent about the FOOD and DRUGS they unleash on the 80% of us who don’t smoke, eat, and have medical issues.

    Link to this
  7. 7. ldgregg 12:11 am 06/23/2011

    I smoked for 10 years and promised my Mom I would quit on by a certain date and did it with a month to spare. How?

    1) I was committed to my promise, not only for her, but for my life. This was back in the days when the Surgeon General fine print made it onto the side of packs – which played absolutely no part in my decision. I was paying around $2/pack and smoked 1 – 2 packs a day.

    2) I surrounded myself with non-smokers (I was the only smoker in my office and I was definitely the oddball for it). My smoking friends rallied around me and supported me – they wouldn’t smoke around me, smacked my hands if I fondled their cigarette packs. I steered clear of those who didn’t support me and that ended up including a fiancee who said I would never make it (I did, he didn’t).

    3) I found "One Step at a Time" filter system. Then, sold by Walgreens and was made by WaterPik. This was instrumental in my quitting. Four filters, 8 weeks, and you’re done. I was actually done a week early because before I started, I converted to Carltons (air/fluff filled cigarette) and by the time I got to the last One Step filter, it was too big a hassle to keep the things lit. Also, after 7 weeks of cleaning out the tar from those plastic filters, well, it was just too gross to imagine that stuff going into my lungs.

    4) I substituted my cigs with peppermint sticks. It was prior to the holidays and I found sticks that were cigarette sized and individually wrapped. These became my replacement. After a couple of touch-and-go days of non-smoking, I realized the my mouth tasted great, I smelled great, I could breathe without coughing, and food tasted great. Many quitters end up gaining weight, but I acknowledged that weight was better than smoke, and formed a plan to deal with the slight weight gain.

    5) To seal the deal, I calculated all the money I would spend over the course of the next year and promptly blew it all – on a membership to a private athletic club with pool, aerobics classes, social events, and much more fun.

    I am thankful that all of my smoking friends have followed me in the quitters journey. It wasn’t easy, but we all had each others support and are all breathing much easier today.

    I share this in hopes that inspires you to quit, too. I belive in positive reinforcement, so I don’t support what the FDA is doing with the gross photos that we are all being subjected to here. I wish they were as diligent about the crap they allow in our foods and the awful drugs they let loose on consumers.

    Link to this
  8. 8. ldgregg 12:17 am 06/23/2011

    By the way, smoking is smoking. Whether it’s tobacco or marijuana, it damages the lungs.

    Link to this
  9. 9. devdev 1:37 am 07/1/2011

    I need camel menthols cigarettes in cheap rate. I know that in these cigarettes the most expensive sort of tobacco is use. But any one suggest me any online shop which provide me cheap cigarettes. Thanks

    <a href="http://www.buydiscountcigars.com">little cigars</a>

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  10. 10. devdev 1:39 am 07/1/2011

    I need camel menthols cigarettes in cheap rate. I know that in these cigarettes the most expensive sort of tobacco is use. But any one suggest me any online shop which provide me cheap cigarettes. Thanks

    http://www.buycigarettes.com/

    Link to this
  11. 11. kannhelen 9:07 am 07/6/2012

    I don’t give a damn what anyone says, smoking makes you feel better, keeps your weight down, and it gets you more chicks. I’m proud to be a smoker, I’m sick of all the prejudice against us, and I’m never, ever going to quit smoking. http://www.tobaccopub.net/

    Link to this
  12. 12. emily1986 4:54 am 01/17/2013

    E Cigarettes normally include a metallic or plastic tube. These can seem as being a typical tobacco cigarette or may possibly can be found in diverse assorted colours. The 2 areas from the e cigs are classified as the prolonged cylinder and also the cartridge.www.linkdelight.com/121212021W-1.6ml-EGO-CE4-Electronic-Cigarette-Refillable-Atomizer-Grey.html

    Link to this
  13. 13. emily1986 4:56 am 01/17/2013

    The lengthy cylinder that’s related on the paper stop of the cigarette in look hosts the battery. The cartridge has h2o, nicotine, flavors along with the atomizer. This atomizer could be the heating agent E-Cigarette Accessories(http://www.linkdelight.com/121212032W-2-in-1-650mAh-Rechargeable-Battery-for-E-Cigarettes-EGO-EGO-T.html)

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