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Smoking Cessation Health Center

FDA Proposes New Cigarette Warning Labels

New Warning Labels Would Be Larger and More Graphic
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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."

What does work? "The best approach is when your patient comes in and you uncover the irrationality of what they are doing," he says. "The motivation to stop smoking comes from the patient, hopefully, with some cheerleading from a doctor or health care professional. Nagging [by a partner] doesn't work, although sometimes a child will be very compelling. A child will say something like 'I want you to be around when I am getting married.'"

Fear doesn't work, he says, and may backfire. "Showing gruesome pictures can also cause anxiety in a smoker and they will go out and smoke more. I've seen enough of the psychology of smoking to know it's not a rational process."

John Banzhaf III, professor of public interest law at George Washington University and executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, an organization devoted to antismoking efforts, calls the label program "'too little, too late."

Banning smoking is a better approach, Banzhaf tells WebMD. He says the federal government should ban smoking at all institutions that accept Health and Human Services grants, for instance. Financial incentives to quit like a smoker premium surcharge and higher taxes would also do more to curb smoking than the label proposal, he says.

Tobacco Industry Response

The tobacco industry views the new warnings as unnecessary and questions their legality. “We are currently reviewing the 140-page notice issued today by the FDA regarding warning labels on cigarette packaging," says David Howard, a spokesman for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. “It is important to note that the legality of requiring larger and graphic warnings is part of our lawsuit that is currently pending in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. A hearing on the matter is expected to occur sometime next year.”

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