This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
It’s all too easy for smokers to ignore the Surgeon General’s small “hazardous to your health” warning on cigarette packs. That won’t be the case much longer.
Under new Food and Drug Administration rules scheduled to go into effect in 2012, graphic color photos and drawings depicting the negative consequences of smoking will take up half of the front and back of each pack as well as 20 percent of cigarette advertising.
Anyone who’s bought cigarettes in Canada or one of 30 other countries won’t be startled by the more in-your-face warnings; they’ve been required there for years. While some of the FDA’s warning images are strong, they’re not nearly as cringe-inducing as many of the ones required on foreign labels.
Research in other countries supports the effectiveness of strong warning labels in getting smokers to consider quitting. In the U.S., the most effective measures have included smoking restrictions at work and in public places as well as steep increases in tobacco taxes. Since 1970, the cost of an average pack in the United States has risen from 38 cents to $5.33. During that same period, the percentage of Americans smoking has dropped from 40 percent to about 20 percent.
Still, that’s 46 million people taking part in the greatest single preventable cause of death and the No. 1 threat to public health. At least a third of smokers – about 443,000 annually – will die prematurely because of their habit.
While impressive progress has been made in lowering the smoking rate, the numbers have leveled off. And sadly, teen smoking rates almost exactly mirror the 20 percent of adult Americans who smoke.
So more aggressive tactics are called for. If graphic labels – which are costly only to the manufacturers who have to redesign their packages – can get those rates even a little lower, then they should be used. And the ickier the better.
Death by smoking isn’t pretty. Cigarette packages shouldn’t be either. Bring on the diseased mouths and toe-tagged corpses.
On the Web
To see the Food & Drug Administration’s images proposed for U.S. cigarette package warning labels, click here.