New cigarette warning labels to be in use by fall 2012

Showing graphic photos of rotting teeth, a man with a zipper-like scar down the length of his chest and even a man with smoke coming out of his tracheotomy tube, the Food and Drug Administration unveiled this week the warnings that will be required on cigarette packages starting in fall 2012.

The move is aimed at getting smokers to quit, which could be especially beneficial in Kentucky, where 25 percent of adults are smokers, compared to 18 percent nationwide. The state has the second highest smoking rate in the country, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

The FDA hopes the images “will reduce the number of smokers by 213,000 by 2013 and save between $221 million and $630 million every year over the next 20 years,” Rob Stein of The Washington Post reports. “With these warnings, every person who picks up a pack of cigarettes will know exactly what risk they are taking,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

The graphics, which represent the first time U.S. warnings have been overhauled in 25 years, are accompanied with messages such as “Warning: Cigarettes are addictive” or “Warning: Smoking can kill you.” Warnings started appearing on cigarette packages in 1966, but remained limited to small text on the sides of packages and in ads. About 30 other countries, including Canada and Brazil, already require graphic warnings.
To prevent smokers from becoming desensitized to the images, the FDA plans to conduct studies to make sure the images are still having an effect. “What may seem quite shocking at the beginning, people get used to quite quickly,” Sebelius said.
Several tobacco companies are challenging the move in court. They would not comment about the images, Stein reports. (Read more)
As for whether they will make a difference, Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak polled some smokers, who seemed unfazed by the images. (Read more)
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