FDA to issue new graphic cigarette warning labels
American Cancer Society CEO John R. Seffrin applauded the new labels in a statement, saying they have the potential to "encourage adults to give up their deadly addiction to cigarettes and deter children from starting in the first place."
The new labels come as the share of Americans who smoke has fallen dramatically since 1970, from nearly 40 percent to about 20 percent. The rate has stalled since about 2004. About 46 million adults in the U.S. smoke cigarettes.
It's unclear 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.
While it is impossible to say how many people quit because of the labels, various studies suggest the labels do spur people to 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 use costs the U.S. 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.
The World Health Organization said in a survey done in countries with graphic warning labels that a majority of smokers noticed the warnings and more than 25 percent said the warnings led them to consider quitting.
While some have voiced concerns 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," Hammond said. "What's bothering people is the risk associated with their behavior, not the warnings themselves."
In places like Canada, Hammond said smokers offended by some of the images on cigarettes packs there started asking for different packs when they received ones with certain gory images, or used a case to cover them up. But smokers said those warnings still had an effect on them.
Canada introduced similar warning labels in 2000. Since then, its smoking rates have declined from about 26 percent to about 20 percent. How much the warnings contributed to the decline is unclear because the country also implemented other tobacco control efforts.
Would you like to contribute to this story? Join the discussion.