FDA's Dire Graphic Warnings on Cigarette Packs

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Within two years, convenience store retailers and other retailers of cigarettes will be faced with selling a product whose packaging will prominently feature gruesome pictures of emaciated cancer patients, dead bodies, and sick babies (presumably due to mothers who smoke during pregnancy).

By October 2012, all cigarette packs in the United States will show such graphic images and contain stern warnings about the dangers of smoking, the Food and Drug Administration announced this week.

Other possible pictures proposed by the FDA include women blowing smoke in children's faces, diseased lungs, a cancer-riddled mouth and a smoker puffing through a tracheotomy hole in his neck, according to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. The images will cover half the space on packaging and will also be shown on all cigarette ads, along with bold statements such as "Smoking Will Kill You."

"Today, FDA takes a crucial step toward reducing the tremendous toll of illness and death caused by tobacco use by proposing to dramatically change how cigarette packages and advertising look in this country. When the rule takes effect, the health consequences of smoking will be obvious every time someone picks up a pack of cigarettes," said Hamburg said in a prepared statement. "This is a concrete example of how FDA's new responsibilities for tobacco product regulation can benefit the public's health."

The plan is a result of the 2009 federal law that gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products, including marketing and labeling guidelines, ban certain products and limit nicotine.

The FDA says it will chose nine specific pictures and graphic warning statements for the cigarette packs by June 22, 2011, and by Oct. 22, 2012, these warnings will be required on all cigarette packs sold in the U.S.

Reynolds American Inc., the parent company of the nation's second-largest cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds, said it is reviewing the labeling plan. The Associated Press reported that Reynolds spokesman David Howard said the legality of the new labels is part of a lawsuit filed by the company, Lorillard Inc. and other cigarette makers that is pending in federal appeals court.

In their suit, the tobacco makers contend that the warnings would relegate the companies' brands to the bottom half of the cigarette packaging, making it "difficult, if not impossible, to see." Ronald Milstein, Lorillard's senior vice president for legal and external affairs, said the lawsuit could lead to changes in the proposed warnings, according to USA Today.

The largest U.S. tobacco company, Philip Morris, said in a statement it plans to actively participate in the rulemaking and public comment process.

Over the last decade, countries as varied as Canada, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Iran and Singapore, among others, have adopted graphic warnings on tobacco products. Some are downright disturbing: in Brazil, cigarette packages come with pictures of dead babies and a gangrened foot with blackened toes, according to HealthDay.com. In the U.S., the current text-only warnings on packages have changed little since 1984, said HealthDay.com.

For video of the proposed packaging, go to http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/regulation/2010-11-10-tobacco-labels_N.htm?csp=usat.me.

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