- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a new rule that would require cigarette packages and ads to feature realistic color images that show some of the adverse health effects of smoking.
- The proposal features 13 different warnings highlighting a range of health risks related to smoking, such as head and neck cancer and fatal lung disease.
- The proposed warnings would take up the top 50 percent of the front and rear panels of cigarette cartons. Additionally, these labels would comprise at least 20 percent of the area at the top of cigarette ads.
- The addition of similar graphic ads have effectively helped to reduce smoking rates in other countries.
The FDA is hoping a picture truly is worth a thousand words.
The organization recently announced a proposed new rule that would require packages and advertising for tobacco products to feature photo-realistic color images that show some of the adverse health effects of smoking.
This would be the most significant change to cigarette labels in 35 years, fulfilling a requirement put forth by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, according to an
“While most people assume the public knows all they need to understand about the harms of cigarette smoking, there’s a surprising number of lesser-known risks that both youth and adult smokers and nonsmokers may simply not be aware of, such as bladder cancer, diabetes and conditions that can cause blindness,” Acting FDA Commissioner
Once put into effect, the warnings would take up the top 50 percent of the front and rear panels of cigarette packs. Additionally, these labels would comprise at least 20 percent of the area at the top of cigarette ads.
The warnings would be required to appear on packages and in advertisements 15 months after a final rule is issued.
This proposal came after a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued an order directing the FDA to publish the proposal this month and issue a final rule in March 2020.
The proposal is open for public feedback through Oct. 15. Right now, the proposal features
The images aren’t easy to look at. That’s the point. They’re meant to starkly lay out the high health risks smoking can present.
These new warnings would be impossible to miss, says Dr. Michael Ong, professor in residence of medicine and health policy and management at UCLA Health.
“The current traditional, plain box warning is small enough that it can be easily ignored,” Ong told Healthline. “These graphic warnings will take up a larger amount of cigarette packaging, which makes it harder to ignore.”
Dr. Humberto Choi, a pulmonologist who leads the smoking cessation program at Cleveland Clinic, told Healthline these warnings can be powerful.
“The most impactful ones are of patients who have suffered severe illnesses directly related to smoking, like cancer and heart disease. The pictures cover most of one of the sides of a pack of cigarettes, so it is hard to miss it even if you don’t take the time to read the text,” Choi said.
“Obviously, the goal is to be as impactful as possible to remind smokers of the dangers of smoking,” he said.
It’s a dangerous health risk that affects a high number of American youth, too.
There’s long been a call to make changes to the way we communicate the serious health threats cigarettes pose in the United States.
Choi says these graphic labels were proposed for tobacco companies back in 2010, but it was challenged in court.
“One of the arguments was that there was no evidence that this practice led to reduced smoking prevalence. Now, after so many years, there is accumulating evidence that graphic warning labels have helped to reduce smoking prevalence in many countries,” Choi sad.
“There is also a momentum in the country, as we are more aware of the dangers of smoking and we are concerned about increasing vaping use among teenagers,” he added.
Ong points out many countries around the world use imagery on their warnings that are even more graphic than what’s being proposed here.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reports that, right now, at least 122 countries and jurisdictions around the world have finalized the requirements for these kinds of graphic labels to be present on packaging for cigarettes and sometimes other products.
The results speak for themselves.
The advocacy group reports that a 2004 survey found 28 percent of smokers in Singapore reported smoking fewer cigarettes due to graphic warning labels.
“Studies show that graphic pictures on cigarette packs increase the likelihood of quitting tobacco, as they provide behavioral ‘nudges’ to remind smokers about health harms,” Ong said. “Most current smokers actually would like to quit smoking.”
He added, “While not all smokers will respond to these graphic warnings, there likely will be more current smokers who will try another quit attempt after these graphic warnings are implemented.”
Choi echoes those thoughts. He points out that because smoking is one of the biggest causes for the diseases that kill the most people in the United States — including cancer and heart disease — “it is a public health and economic matter.”
“We should do everything we can to reduce the smoking rates, to help smokers quit, and prevent new smokers in the future,” he stressed.
“Graphic warning labels have helped reduce smoking rates in many countries, and I hope it helps in the U.S., too, if adopted. I hope the labels help increase awareness of the health risks from smoking. I think everyone registers this information in a different way, but in the end we need to be impactful.
“One way to learn the lesson is to just read about the health consequences of smoking. Another way is to see it. The worst way is to experience it yourself, but that’s exactly what we are trying to avoid,” Choi said.
There are 13 proposed new labels. The public has the chance to provide input through Oct. 15.
Doctors and advocate groups say these new labels could be highly effective.
In other countries, this kind of labeling has been instrumental in reducing cigarette use.