New cigarette warning labels unveiled

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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
this fall.

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, all cigarette packages sold in the
United States must bear the images and warnings. Thirty 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

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
percent 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 in about a year to keep the images and
their message fresh in consumers’ minds.


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