Graphic Pictures and Stronger Warnings Part of a New Strategy to Cut Tobacco Use
Health officials estimate that 30 percent of all cancers are related to tobacco use. Because cigarette advertising and packaging hasn’t changed much in the past 25 years, the US Department of Health and Human Services feel that the addition of stronger warnings and graphic pictures may do more to end tobacco use than the years of more subtle education have been able to accomplish.
Strategy Has Been Successful in Other Countries in Cutting Smoking Rates
HHS unveiled their comprehensive tobacco strategic action plan today called “Ending the Tobacco Epidemic.” In the introduction, the agency notes that pursuant to a 2009 law signed by President Barack Obama that grants the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products to protect public health, the first initiative is to add “nine new larger and more noticeable textual warning statements and color graphic images depicting the negative health consequences of smoking.”
The pictures include emaciated lung cancer patients, a body in a casket with a cigarette in his hand, and a baby confined to a respirator. While officials state that these images are “not quite as grim as some used in other countries,” they hope that the message is sufficiently frightening to keep young people from beginning to smoke and encourage current smokers to quit.
Over the last decade, countries such as Canada, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Iran and Singapore have adopted graphic warnings on tobacco products. According to David Hammond, an assistant professor in the department of health studies at the University of Waterloo, when Canada adopted stronger and more graphic warning labels, smoking dropped 5%.
The warning labels will cover half a tobacco product package’s front and rear and will comprise the top 20% of all cigarette ads.
In addition to the packaging and advertisement changes, other recent tobacco control and prevention efforts taken recently include providing smoking cessation at no additional cost to those with participating health insurance plans, restrictions on certain tobacco products that encourage youth to take up smoking (such as flavored cigarettes and smokeless tobacco), and a ruling (Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act or PACT) to eliminate the illegal sale of tobacco products over the Internet and through mail order.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) raised the federal cigarette tax by 62 cents per pack. Raising the price of tobacco products is a proven way to reduce tobacco use, especially among price-sensitive populations such as youth.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of premature and preventable death today in the United States. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius notes that each day, almost 4,000 youth try a cigarette for the first time and 1,000 youth become regular daily smokers.
The public will have the opportunity to comment on 36 proposed images through January 9, 2011. The FDA will select the final nine by June 22, 2011 and full implementation is expected by September/October, 2012 pending the result of a lawsuit filed by cigarette makers disputing the legality of the new labeling plan.