The FDA Is Proposing New Health Warnings for Cigarette Packs and Advertisements

Cigarette warning labels could get 'most significant' overhaul in 35 years

Cigarette packages would feature color images, new health warnings under FDA proposal

HARRIS: Sure, it's common knowledge that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease.

In the proposed rule released Thursday, the FDA said the new warnings should "pass a First Amendment analysis" because they are factual, backed by "robust scientific evidence", and advance the government's interest of informing the public about smoking's consequences.

As such, barring any legal challenges, these new warnings should be finalised by March next year, and companies would then have 15 months to place them on their products.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed manufacturers put graphic images and text warning labels on cigarette packs that show the health risks of smoking. These graphics are required to take up 50 percent of the front and back of individual packs, and a minimum of 20 percent of cigarette ads.

Editor's Note: Of course, Australians will be familiar with similar warnings and graphic imagery on cigarette packets already.

Studies from countries where these images have always been in place suggest "that graphic warnings encourage smokers to quit and discourage nonsmokers from smoking initiation", Folan said.

The US has made considerable progress in reducing smoking among adults and teenagers, yet the agency says almost half a million people die annually in the country as a direct effect of tobacco use. These warnings "go unnoticed" and are effectively "invisible", the FDA said in its announcement.

The current smaller text warnings on the side of US cigarette packs have not been updated since 1984.

This isn't the first time US regulators have sought to force cigarette makers to display graphic anti-smoking images on their packaging.

"Given the extreme risks cigarette smoking poses to the public health", said Mitch Zeller, who runs the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA, "new proposed warnings of this type are critical to promote greater public understanding of the risks associated with cigarette smoking".

"While most people assume the public knows all they need to understand about the harms of cigarette smoking, there's a surprising number of lesser-known risks that both youth and adult smokers and nonsmokers may simply not be aware of, such as bladder cancer, diabetes and conditions that can cause blindness", Sharpless continued. "Smoking is the deadliest behavior we engage in; more people die from smoking than from anything else".

Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure account for 480,000 deaths in the USA each year, the FDA reported, totaling more fatalities than alcohol, HIV, auto accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

Jonathan Havens, a former FDA lawyer who worked with the agency's then newly-established Center for Tobacco Products, says the First Amendment is the primary obstacle separating the USA from other countries.

But experts disagree on whether the First Amendment should preclude graphic cigarette warnings.

But it's still unclear if these new warnings will be met with with a challenge in court.

In 2009, a provision of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act granted the FDA powers to regulate tobacco products. But that momentary reprieve before lighting up may only last a few more years. At the same time, however, the court didn't strike down the law under which the FDA was acting, and a separate appeals court specifically upheld the law.

"We firmly support public awareness of the harms of smoking cigarettes, but the manner in which those messages are delivered to the public can not run afoul of the First Amendment protections that apply to all speakers, including cigarette manufacturers", Kaelan Hollon, a spokeswoman for Reynolds American Inc., the parent company of R.J. Reynolds, said in an emailed statement.

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