FDA to Enforce Bold New Cigarette Warnings

Will these graphic images have an effect on cigarette consumption, or will these images start with a bang and fizzle out?

There are 43 million smokers in the United States today—but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking a bold step to cut that number down to size (the ideal size being zero, eventually).

The FDA has announced its new plan to discourage current—as well as potential—smokers from lighting up. Nine graphic images will be the new warning labels of cigarette boxes, and graphic means graphic: one such image shows a man with a smoking-induced tracheotomy, while another shows a cadaver bearing the warning “Smoking can kill you” below the picture.

"These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "With these warnings, every person who picks up a pack of cigarettes is going to know exactly what risk they're taking."

Underneath every image is a number for a hotline intended to help smokers quit the habit (1-800-QUIT-NOW).

Originally, there were thirty-six images produced by the FDA as possible new warning labels for cigarettes. The public was called upon to view and give their opinion of them until January 9th, when nine of the thirty-six images were chosen, and the FDA announced those nine images on June 22nd. Manufacturers are mandated to begin including these images on their cigarette packaging by October 22, 2012.

You can view all of the new cigarette labels on the FDA’s website.

Along with taking up the top half of cigarette boxes, the images will also be required to appear in 20% of tobacco advertisements.

This bold move is the biggest modification to cigarette warning labels since 1984, when the government first began requiring that cigarette packaging bear a label warning about the detrimental effects smoking could have on a person’s health.

This drastic measure, while certainly aimed at current adult smokers, also takes a deliberate stab at the child and teenage market the cigarette industry targets frequently.

Among teenagers, 13.5% of freshmen in high school were reported to smoke; that number increased to 25.2% by the time they became seniors in high school.

"With 10 million cigarettes being sold every minute and more than 2,000 children under the age of eighteen starting to smoke each day, we don't have a moment to lose in protecting the American public, especially children, from the harm caused by these dangerous products," said O. Marion Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

These images, however, certainly will not go unnoticed by children or teenagers who happen to see a parent or a friend light up.

"This is a huge step forward in encouraging kids not to smoke and adults to quit,'' said Paul Billings, vice president of policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, roughly forty countries—including Canada and Mexico—already mandate that similar images be placed as warnings on cigarette labels.

443,000 people die each year in America due to tobacco use, but it is hoped that these images will help cut the percentage of smokers across the country to 12% by 2020.

"Research evidence shows that these images make a real difference," said Sherry Emery, a senior researcher for the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The American public, however, is not so universally united against ending smoking with these images on cigarette packaging.

"It's discrimination," stated Trahesa Mires Davis, a Washington, D.C., resident who reported that she has been smoking for twenty years. "They already hit us with all these taxes on cigarettes," Davis said. "Now they are making us put up with this. I know the risks of smoking. Why don't they do something about alcohol addiction instead of always picking on us?"

On the other hand, Kevin Spangler from Houston approves of the message, as his brother-in-law lost a lung due to smoking. "When [kids] see something like [these images], I think it goes a long way towards taking the 'cool' out of smoking," said Spangler.

The question is, however, will this drastic step really have that much of an effect on curbing smoking? Will these graphic images have an effect on cigarette consumption, or will these images start with a bang and fizzle out?