U.S. Food and Drug Administration
For many years, American smokers have been spared the unpleasant images of cold-infested feet, swollen tongues overtaken by cancerous tumors, and blackened lungs that are often plastered on packages of cigarettes sold worldwide. But the temporary delay before you light up may only last a few more years.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday released a proposed rule to order tobacco companies to include graphic warnings on cigarette packets and tobacco advertisements aimed at promoting "greater public understanding of the negative health consequences of smoking," the agency said in a statement.
The photo-realistic images and detailed health risk warnings, which would replace the standard surgeon general's warnings, were mandated under a 2009 law requiring the agency to include new warning labels on smoking's adverse health effects. But the tobacco industry blocked the FDA's rule that was intended to require such labeling in court. They won a lawsuit claiming that the proposed labels were scare tactics. Finally, a federal court ruled that the agency's rule violated the First Amendment.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
This time, however, acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless told reporters that the 13 warnings the agency plans to plaster on cigarette packs, chop close to the actual dangers of smoking.
"While most people assume that today and today that the harm of smoking is fairly well understood by the public, this is not true," Sharpless said, adding that the existing warning from the surgeon general currently on cigarette packaging is " become virtually invisible "to smokers.
To combat this, the new proposed warnings highlight lesser known health problems such as blindness, impotence and diabetes, which many people do not realize may be caused by cigarette smoking.
"With these new proposed cigarette health warnings, we have a huge public health opportunity to fulfill our statutory mandate and increase the public's understanding of the full range of serious adverse health consequences of cigarette smoking," Sharpless added in a written statement. "Given that tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, there is a lot at stake to ensure that the public understands these risks."
Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national advocacy for the American Lung Association, told NPR's Richard Harris, the warnings are "critically necessary and long overdue."
The organization sued the FDA for forcing it to produce warning labels after the agency's initial efforts failed.
In an email statement, ALA cited research showing that graphic warnings are "effective in preventing children from starting smoking, and motivating current smokers to quit for good."
Meanwhile, tobacco companies say they are considering the FDA's proposed rule.
"We support the public awareness of the harms of smoking cigarettes, but the way these messages are delivered to the public cannot go beyond first protection protection to all speakers, including cigarette manufacturers," Kaelan Hollon, a spokeswoman for Reynolds American Inc., RJ Reynolds's parent company said in an email statement.
"[It] is important for the FDA to focus on providing information that can provide health benefits to the public, and not just repeating known messages that smoking is dangerous, something the public already understands," Hollon added.
Meanwhile, advocates support more legal challenges to labeling requirements, which will mark the first 35-year update to necessary warnings about cigarette packaging and tobacco advertising. The earliest they could show up in stores and billboards is the summer of 2021.