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FDA Proposes New Cigarette Warning Labels

New Warning Labels Would Be Larger and More Graphic
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

FDA proposed cigarette warning labels Nov. 10, 2010 --The FDA is proposing new cigarette warning labels that will be larger and more visible on cigarette packages and in advertisements in an effort to reduce the number of tobacco-related illnesses and deaths.

The proposed images are graphic: a thin, sickly patient in bed, a breastfeeding mother blowing smoke in the baby’s face, a corpse, and a smoker injecting a cigarette in the arm like a hypodermic needle.

The proposal was announced today at a news conference by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and FDA officials. "Today marks an important milestone in protecting our children and the health of the American public," Sebelius said.

“The existing warning labels on cigarette packs have not been updated in 25 years, so this is very good timing,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said at a second news conference Wednesday elaborating on the proposal. “Some of the images, I am sure you will agree, are very, very powerful -- and that is the point. We need to make sure anyone considering smoking, particularly kids, fully appreciate the consequences of cigarette use.”

The agency is considering 36 different images and will study the effectiveness of them with consumers before choosing the ones to accompany the nine warning statements.

Each year, tobacco kills 443,000 Americans, and 30% of cancer deaths are related to tobacco. Each day, 4,000 youths try smoking, according to the FDA.

The FDA is exerting its new power to regulate tobacco products under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which requires the agency to issue final regulations on the warning labels by June 22, 2011. Public comments are being accepted through Jan. 9, 2011. By October 2012, cigarettes can’t be sold without the new warning labels.

The proposed new labeling was applauded by some experts and was met with skepticism and criticism by others, who aren't sure stronger labels will convince hard-core smokers to quit.

Proposed New Cigarette Warning Labels

Among the proposed labels, all beginning with the word "WARNING" in capital letters:

  • Cigarettes are addictive.
  • Tobacco smoke can harm your children.
  • Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease.
  • Cigarettes cause cancer.
  • Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease.
  • Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby.
  • Smoking can kill you.
  • Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers.
  • Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.

The nine health warnings would be required to appear on the upper portion of the front and rear panels of a cigarette package and take up at least the top half of the panels, according to the FDA.

Reactions to New Cigarette Warning Labels

The proposal for stronger warning labels was applauded by the American Association for Cancer Research.

But Len Horovitz, MD, an internist and lung specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, is skeptical that the new labels will convince smokers to give up tobacco. "I will ask my patients [who smoke] what is on the side of the pack and most don't know," he tells WebMD. Even if the labels are larger and more graphic, he says, "I don't know if they will really help."

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