FDA Unveils Graphic Cigarette Labels

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The Food and Drug Administration unveiled nine graphic health warnings Tuesday that will appear on cigarette labels starting in September.

The labels, proposed in November, were mandated under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that was signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 22, 2009.

Tobacco companies will be required to put the warnings on all cigarette packs, cartons and ads in the U.S. no later than September 2012. This is the first time major changes have been made to cigarette warning labels in more than 25 years.

The images, which include cancer-ridden lungs, an image of a tracheotomy and a person having a heart attack, are meant to prevent children from smoking and to encourage adults to quit. At the least, they should ensure every smoker understands the dangers of the habit.

“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,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said in a written statement.

The images were selected from a set of 36 that were originally proposed after the FDA reviewed the relevant scientific literature, analyzed the results from an 18,000 person study and considered comments from the tobacco industry, retailers, health professionals, public health and other advocacy groups, academics, state and local public health agencies, medical organizations and individual consumers.

The FDA said tobacco use is the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the U.S. – responsible for 443,000 deaths each year, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smokers cost our economy nearly $200 billion every year in medical costs and lost productivity, the agency estimates.

The FDA’s strategy is nothing new, as other nations have found success with using graphic images to deter citizens from smoking. According to the World Health Organization, 15 countries representing 6% of the world’s population mandate pictorial warnings on cigarettes. Studies carried out after the implementation of these graphic warnings in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand illustrated that the labels led residents to smoke less and avoid lighting up in front of children.

Singapore, one of the first countries to stick graphic labels on cigarettes, has one of the lowest levels of smoking prevalence in the world.

While many states have taken the initiative to ban smoking in their public places, there are others that are decidedly lax about smoking restrictions. Check out MainStreet’s look at the states with the most smoker-friendly laws.

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