Cigarette Warning Labels Get More Graphic

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Cigarette Warning Labels Get More Graphic


ROCKVILLE, Md. -- Cigarette packs and advertisements are set to get more graphic now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued its final nine health warnings required to appear on every pack and ad by September 2012.

According to the FDA, the warnings are a bold measure "aimed at making sure that every American understands the dangers of smoking." The agency selected the nine images from the originally proposed 36 after reviewing relevant scientific literature, analyzing the results of an 18,000-person study and considering more than 1,700 comments from a variety of groups, including the tobacco industry, retailers, health professionals, public health and other advocacy groups, academics, state and local public health agencies, medical organizations and individual consumers.

Each warning will be accompanied by a smoking cessation phone number, according to an FDA news release.

In a press conference today, Deputy Secretary Bill Corr of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the new warnings are "the toughest and most effective warnings in our history." He added the nine will replace the old warnings.

"With these warnings, every person who picks up a pack of cigarettes will know exactly what risks they are taking," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in another White House briefing this afternoon.

She further explained that the Tobacco Control Act gives the FDA the authority to change the warnings and images as smokers get used to seeing them. "We see this is as a continuous process," she said. "The plan is to continue to test to see if they are continuing to make a difference."

And FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg added that a pack-a-day smoker will see these warnings more than 7,000 times a year. "This will be a dramatic change to what a cigarette pack looks like, no doubt about it," she said.

Cigarette manufacturers are reserving comment at this time. Both R.J. Reynolds and The Altria Group referred CSNews Online to statements they previously made on the issue.

In a letter to the FDA in January, Altria -- the parent company of Philip Morris USA -- said it supported the Tobacco Control Act but had some constitutional reservations on some parts of it. In addition, the company said, "Congress failed to consider whether alternative, less speech-restrictive warnings (in terms of size, placement or positioning on pack) would serve the government's interest.

Also in January, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Commonwealth Brands submitted a letter expressing their concerns on the warning labels. Specifically, the three jointly pointed out that "instead of providing new information for consumers' risk-benefit assessments, the proposed warnings convey to smokers the government's view that they should change in a significant way how they lead their lives."

Both letters also cited the potential constitutionality of the size of the required warning labels.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (often referred to as simply the Tobacco Control Act), which President Barack Obama signed into law on June 22, 2009, specifies that cigarette packages and advertisements have larger and more visible graphic health warnings. In November, the FDA took a step toward this with the release of a proposed rule, "Required Warnings for Cigarette Packages and Advertisements," proposing to modify the required warnings that appear on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements.

The Tobacco Control Act requires that the nine graphic health warnings appear on the upper portion of the front and rear panels of each cigarette package and comprise at least the top 50 percent of these panels. In addition, the measure dictates the warnings appear in each cigarette advertisement and occupy at least 20 percent of the advertisement. For advertisements with a surface area less than 12 square inches, the proposed rule provides a subset of proposed color graphics to accompany the nine textual warning statements.