Larger and More Graphic Health Warnings Mandatory on Cigarette Packaging

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Over the last few days, I've been noticing a lot more public service announcements about the dangers of smoking (some of them are so graphic I could barely watch). I'm not a smoker, but I can't imagine a smoker not being scared to death after seeing some of these. And today, the Food and Drug Administration announced that new (larger and more graphic) warning labels will be mandatory on all cigarette packaging. If you haven't seen them yet, this Associated Press news video shows them:

I actually think this is something that really could work. I think these images have a lot of potential to increase the number of people who want to quit smoking, and I also think they will serve as a strong deterrent to anyone who might be considering starting (specifically teens).

If the pictures aren't enough -- here are some facts about smoking from the FDA website that might surprise you...

  • More than 1,200 people a day are killed by cigarettes in the United States alone, and 50 percent of all long-term smokers are killed by smoking-related diseases. Tobacco use is the cause of death for nearly one out of every five people in the United States, which adds up to about 443,000 deaths annually.
  • More than 140,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke in the United States are caused each year by smoking and secondhand smoke exposure. Compared with nonsmokers, smoking is estimated to increase the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times.
  • Smoking causes approximately 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths in men and 80 percent of all lung cancer deaths in women. Smoking also causes cancers of the bladder, cervix, esophagus, kidney, larynx, lung, mouth, throat, stomach, uterus, and acute myeloid leukemia. Nearly one third of all cancer deaths are directly linked to smoking.

But don't expect to see these new warning labels on the packaging any time soon -- the cigarette manufacturers have about 15 months before it is mandatory that they comply.

Here is the PSA I mentioned at the beginning of this post (the one that was very difficult to watch)...

Have you seen any of these more graphic warnings?  Do you think they will have an effect on actual smokers?

I just got a statement from the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. It reads in part:

  • Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death; this year approximately 5 million persons worldwide will die from tobacco-related heart attacks, strokes, cancers, and other diseases. In the United States, that number is approximately 443,000.
  • Health warnings on cigarette packages prompt smokers to think about quitting, according to a 14-nation study. Effective warning labels as a component of comprehensive tobacco control can help save lives by reducing tobacco use.
  • Warning labels motivate smokers to quit and discourage nonsmokers from starting, are well accepted by the public, and can be effectively implemented at virtually no cost to governments.
  • Prominent, pictorial warnings are most effective in communicating the harms of smoking.
  • Sustained tobacco control programs reduce health care expenditures, save states money and save lives.
  • The tobacco industry continues to spend 34 million per day on advertising and promotion in the United States. That works out to $42 for every person in the U.S., and more than $275 for each U.S. smoker aged 18 years or older.

On a more positive note, here's a final thought from The FDA:

Quitting at any age and at any time is beneficial.  It's never too late to quit, but the sooner the better. Quitting gives your body a chance to heal the damage caused by smoking.

What do you think? Do these types of graphic images and television ads make a smoker want to quit? My colleague AV Flox wrote about the graphic images under consideration last year and asked,

Here's what I want to know: what happens when the graphic imagery we're using is no longer enough to shake the denial? When the tag on the toe suggesting a dead body isn't enough to give us some pause? Will we one day be so desensitized to these images we'll need more and more graphic ones to get the message across?

How hard a hit do you think it will be on cigarette manufacturers once these new warning labels are implemented? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan
Also at Catherine-Morgan.com

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