About Damn Time

Today, the FDA, which took control of the tobacco industry last November, unveiled images of dead bodies, diseased lungs and a man on a ventilator, and other graphic images that will appear in new tobacco labels and advertisements beginning in October 2012. These images, such as the one titled “WARNING: Cigarettes are addictive”–a photograph of a man smoking a cigarette through a hole in his throat–will finally bring smokers face to face with what might happen if they continue to smoke those cancer sticks. Others messages point out the dangers of secondhand smoke to children, tobacco’s causal link to fatal lung disease, cancer, strokes, heart disease and death.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the goal is to stop children from starting to smoke and offer adults who want to quit some help. As she told the CBS “Early Show,”

We have about 4,000 people under 18 who try their first cigarette and about 1,000 of them become permanent smokers. And that’s not good for our country.

FDA Cigarette Package Image

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act called for cigarette packages to include warning statements in large type covering half of the front and back of each package and graphic images showing adverse health effects from smoking, and finally they will.

These same warnings will also take up the top 20 percent of every tobacco advertisement. Predictably, R.J. Reynolds has challenged the legality of mandated larger and graphic warnings in a federal lawsuit.
In addition, that 2009 law provided the Food and Drug Administration with the authority to dictate product ingredients and overrule new products, it also compelled tobacco companies to eliminate potentially misleading labels like “light” and “mild.” Tobacco advertising has a long and interesting history–Time Magazine published a useful yet brief history of tobacco advertising in their June 15, 2009 issue which I recommend for those interested. Although evidence of a link between smoking and lung cancer eventually led cigarette manufacturers to introduce cigarette filters, which were eventually found to be no safer than the non-filtered variety (of course the tobacco continued to advertise filtered cigarettes as lower in tar and nicotine), it wasn’t until when a 1964 surgeon general’s report based on more than 7,000 scientific studies linking smoking with lung cancer, emphysema and other diseases, that tobacco advertising finally came under scrutiny and restrictive legislation, including mandatory warning labels on packages and a ban on advertising on radio or television was enacted. This was when the was first introduced.

Fearing that this warning might reduce the number of adult smokers, tobacco companies changed their strategy, and began advertising to younger markets with candy cigarettes and mascots like Joe Camel. The tobacco industry also shifted their ad campaigns after the introduction of restrictions on print advertising for cigarettes and the eventual death of Joe Camel. I have no doubt they’ll find ways to counter these new warnings as well. The good news is that the FDA understands that the impact of these images will eventually fade and plans to update them on some yet unannounced schedule. The bad news is that nicotine is more addictive than heroin and yet continues to be packaged and sold in stores throughout the US.

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