Cigarette producers have until Fall 2012 to comply with the placement of the new labels

We've been told for years that smoking tobacco cigarettes causes health complications. The Surgeon General's Warning mentions health hazards like lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and pregnancy complications. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing new graphic cigarette labels in an effort to encourage users to quit smoking. 

The FDA is releasing new warning labels that show the negative health effects of tobacco cigarettes in great detail, and it's easy to see why since recent studies have found that cigarettes can cause genetic damage in a matter of minutes and that the pollutant third-hand smoke can linger in homes long after smokers move out. Tobacco is the cause of 443,000 deaths in the U.S. annually. 

For these reasons, the FDA has created the graphic labels to reinforce the negative side effects of smoking. The nine new labels show images of rotting teeth and gums, a man with a tracheotomy smoking, the corpse of a smoker, a mother holding a child with smoke around them, and diseased lungs. In addition, the labels will include phrases like "Cigarettes cause cancer" and "Smoking can kill you." Also, a national quit smoking hotline number is included on each pack.

"These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking," said Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary. 

The labels are part of a law passed in 2009 that gave the federal government the right to regulate tobacco. Part of these regulations includes the authority to set guidelines for labeling, marketing and banning the products. The labels were put in place after reviews of public comments, scientific literature and the results from an FDA-contracted study.

The labels will be placed on the top half of the package, both on the front and back. They must also be placed in advertisements as 20 percent of the ad. 

While the U.S. was one of the first to introduce warning labels saying, "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health" in 1965, it isn't the first country to introduce graphic cigarette labels. Over 30 countries have released labels similar to the FDA's. In 2000, Canada released graphic warning labels portraying gory images of the side effects of smoking, and since then, smoking rates have been reduced from 26 percent to 20 percent. It is unclear whether the labels were entirely responsible for the decline, as other anti-smoking efforts were put in place at the time. 

John R. Seffrin, American Cancer Society CEO, was ecstatic about the new FDA labels saying they will "encourage adults to give up their deadly addiction to cigarettes and deter children from starting in the first place." 

In some areas, this has already started to work. According to the World Health Organization, a survey conducted in countries with graphic warning labels showed that 25 percent of smokers ended up quitting because of the labels. 

But not everyone is applauding the new effort. Smokers have complained about the graphic nature of the labels, saying they're a little too much. 

"This isn't about doing what's pleasant for people," said David Hammond, a health behavior researcher at the University of Waterloo in Canada. "It's about fulfilling the government's mandate if they're going to allow these things to be sold. What's bothering people is the risk associated with their behavior, not the warnings themselves."

As expected, cigarette companies are not too happy with the new labels either. In fact, there is a pending federal lawsuit regarding the new graphic labels, which was filed by Winston-Salem, Reynolds American Inc. (parent company of R.J. Reynolds), Lorillard Inc. and others. The lawsuit claims that the companies' brand names would be placed at the bottom of the package where they cannot be seen since the labels would be placed at the top.

Smoking tobacco costs the U.S. economy about $200 billion in annual medical costs and lost productivity. The FDA estimates that the number of smokers will be reduced by 213,000 in 2013 thanks to the new graphic labels. It also predicts that smaller reductions will occur through 2031 as well. 

Producers of cigarettes have until Fall 2012 to comply with the new graphic warning labels. Labels and official information can be found here.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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