HEALTH

FDA to issue new graphic cigarette warning labels

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Rotting teeth. Diseased lungs. A corpse of a smoker.

Cigarette packs will have to carry the graphic warning labels (File photo) (Photo: Associated Press)

Nine new warning labels featuring graphic images that convey the dangers of smoking will be required by the Food and Drug Administration to be on U.S. cigarette packs by 2012. Other images include a man with a tracheotomy smoking and a mother holding a baby with smoke swirling around them. The labels will include phrases like "Smoking can kill you" and "Cigarettes cause cancer."

The labels, which the FDA released Tuesday, are a part of the most significant change to U.S. cigarette packs in 25 years. They're aimed at curbing tobacco use, which is responsible for about 443,000 deaths in the U.S. a year.

The labels will take up the top half - both front and back - of a pack of cigarettes and each will include a national quit smoking hotline number. Warning labels also must appear in advertisements and constitute 20 percent of an ad. Cigarette makers have until the fall of 2012 to comply.

"These kind of graphic warning labels strengthen the understanding of people about the health risks of smoking," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We clearly have to renew a national conversation around these issues and enhance awareness."

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

The legality of the new labels is part of a pending federal lawsuit filed by Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc., parent company of America's second-largest cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds; No. 3 cigarette maker, Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard Inc.; and others.

Tobacco makers in the lawsuit have argued the warnings would relegate the companies' brands to the bottom half of the cigarette packaging, making them "difficult, if not impossible, to see."

A spokesman for Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc., parent company of the nation's largest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, said the company was looking at the final labels but would not comment further.

In recent years, more than 30 countries or jurisdictions have introduced labels similar to those being introduced by the FDA. The U.S. first mandated the use of warning labels stating "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health" in 1965. Current warning labels - a small box with black and white text - were put on cigarette packs in the mid-1980s.

The FDA says the new labels will "clearly and effectively convey the health risks of smoking" aimed at encouraging current smokers to quit and discouraging nonsmokers and youth from starting to use cigarettes.

"These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

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