FDA Goes Graphic on New Cigarette Labeling

Last November the FDA announced an intention to up the ante when it comes to labeling for the packages of cigarettes and put on display for our consideration several versions of labels that offered quite graphic warnings on the dangers of smoking.

Today,  the Health and Human Services and the FDA unveiled the final designs with an aim to requiring their mandatory use by September 2012.

According to the release, the FDA selected nine images from the originally proposed 36 after reviewing the relevant scientific literature, analyzing the results from an 18,000 person study and considering more than 1,700 comments from a variety of groups, including the tobacco industry, retailers, health professionals, public health and other advocacy groups, academics, state and local public health agencies, medical organizations and individual consumers.

The messages on the labeling offer a contrast between scare tactics to discourage new smokers and make current smokers think twice, and messages that are supportive of those who might be considering quitting smoking.

The labels are certainly clear and they are graphic – but then so is the impact of smoking on the health of the public.

For many years now, cigarette packaging has included a warning about the dangerous effects of cigarette smoking, and those dangers are pretty universally known.  Here the agency is betting that making the warning more starkly apparent, and also providing some support for the positive choice of quitting, more people will kick the habit or not pick it up. Each package will have an 800 number for people to call if they are interested in quitting, though the release did not detail what kind of support people will get when they call the number.

For those who have ever traveled to other countries, one many have seen other more graphic warnings on the packages of cigarettes.  The study that the FDA conducted interviewed people about the effect the packaging might have.  What is not known is what impact it actually will have.  The psychology of smoking is probably complex.  Whether or not graphic images and an 800 number will be a major deterrent remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the beauty of the program is that even if one person quits, or one person does not take up smoking as a result of the labels, then it is a success.

The FDA will be tweeting messages about the new packaging today and is including some hashtags should you want to follow on Twitter – they are #cigwarnings#smokefree.

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