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Smoking labels

FDA proposes changes to health warnings on cigarette packages

December 12, 2010
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a proposal to issue larger and more graphic health warnings on cigarette packages, not everyone agrees on what the effect will be.

Lori Mott, the manager of Smoker's Choice on Route 30A in Johnstown, said she does not expect the new warnings to have any effect on sales.

"People will still smoke," she said.

Article Photos

Smoker’s Choice cashier Diahanna Gonzales stocks the shelves with cigarette packages at the store in Johnstown on Thursday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

The proposed warning labels have come about because of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a federal law that was signed by President Barack Obama in 2009.

The law gave the FDA authority to regulate tobacco, including setting guidelines for marketing and labeling, banning certain products and limiting nicotine. The law doesn't allow the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco.

The law requires cigarette packages and advertisements to have larger and more visible graphic health warnings, according to the FDA website -

In response, the FDA issued a proposed rule to modify the cigarette warnings that appear on cigarette packages and advertisements.

New warnings

The warnings would include nine new statements as well as photos "depicting the negative health consequences of smoking," the website said.

Some of the labels include a man with a tracheotomy smoking a cigarette, a cartoon of a mother blowing smoke in her baby's face, rotting and diseased teeth and gums, as well as cigarettes being flushed down the toilet to signify quitting.

Justin Hladik, a program coordinator for Reality Check of Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery Counties, said he thinks the proposed changes will help decrease smoking.

He noted that given the relatively high number of smokers in the area Reality Check covers, the proposal could have a major effect.

According to the state Department of Health's Expanded Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Study - essentially a telephone survey - conducted in July 2008 to June 2009, about 24 percent of adults smoke in Fulton County. The state average is about 17 percent.

"The percentage of adult residents in Fulton County who are current smokers is statistically significantly greater than the percentage of adult residents who are current smokers in New York state," according to a Prevention Agenda Report issued to the state Department of Health in January.

A BRFSS Report done for Montgomery County from July 2008 to June 2009 found about 23 percent of the county's adults were smokers.

"Kids and adults, seeing the image on the cigarette pack, will see how dangerous [smoking] is," Hladik said.

In recent years, more than 30 countries or jurisdictions have introduced labels similar to those proposed by the FDA. The U.S. first mandated the use of warning labels stating "Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health" in 1965.

Rebecca Guarino, the director of Project Action Tobacco-Free Coalition of Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery Counties, said she also expects the warning labels to reduce smoking.

She noted Canada introduced warning labels in 2000 similar to those proposed, and they helped lower the smoking rate.

Since the introduction of the new labels, the smoking rate in Canada has declined from 26 percent to 20 percent. However, other anti-smoking initiatives also have been in place in Canada since that time.

As far as how graphic some of the photos may be, Guarino said she feels it is truth in advertising.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," she said.

However, she said, she would not be surprised if tobacco companies fight the proposal and it winds up in court.

Reynolds American Inc., parent company of the nation's second-largest cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds, is reviewing the labeling plan. But spokesman David Howard said last month the legality of the new labels is part of a pending federal lawsuit filed by the company, No. 3 cigarette maker Lorillard Inc. and others.

The tobacco makers in the suit had argued the warnings would relegate the companies' brands to the bottom half of the cigarette packaging, making them "difficult, if not impossible, to see."

The FDA will select the final labels in June after reviews of scientific literature, public comments and results from an 18,000-person study. Cigarette makers will then have a year and three months to start using the new labels.

The share of Americans who smoke has fallen dramatically since 1970, from nearly 40 percent to about 20 percent, but the rate has stalled since about 2004. About 46 million adults in the U.S. smoke cigarettes.



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