Obama Administration Announces Bold National Plan to Curb Tobacco Use and Save Lives,Including Large, Graphic Warnings on Cigarette Packs

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Nov. 10 2010

Washington, D.C. — The national tobacco prevention strategy announced today by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius provides a timely and much-needed shot in the arm for the nation's efforts to combat tobacco use, the number one cause of preventable death in America. It calls for bold and historic action that will improve health, save lives and save health care costs for employers, workers and taxpayers across the country.

Secretary Sebelius and President Obama deserve praise for launching the federal government's first truly comprehensive initiative to reduce tobacco use, one long overdue since the 1964 Surgeon General's report first alerted Americans to the deadly effects of cigarette smoking. The plan includes a national media campaign to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit; expanded assistance and health coverage for smokers trying to quit; effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing; and accelerated research to enhance strategies to reduce tobacco use. If robustly funded and effectively implemented, the plan can reinvigorate the nation's battle against tobacco and move us closer to the goal of eliminating the death and disease caused by tobacco use.

As part of this plan, the Food and Drug Administration today unveiled the large, graphic health warning labels for cigarette packs that are required by the new law granting the FDA authority over tobacco products. The FDA is seeking public comment before selecting the final warnings that will be required no later than 2012.

The new warnings represent the most significant change in U.S. cigarette warnings since they were first required in 1965. The large, graphic warnings will be impossible to miss and represent a dramatic advance over existing text warnings. The current warnings are more than 25 years old, go unnoticed on the side of cigarette packs and fail to effectively communicate the serious health risks of smoking. The new warnings must cover the top half of the front and back of cigarette packs and 20 percent of cigarette advertisements, and they must contain color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking. Importantly, the FDA has authority to periodically revise the warnings to keep them fresh and effective based on the latest science.

In implementing the new warnings, the United States is catching up to scientific best practices and joining more than 30 countries that already require large, graphic cigarette warnings. Studies have repeatedly shown that large, graphic warnings are most effective at informing consumers about the health risks of smoking, discouraging nonsmokers from starting to smoke, motivating smokers to quit and boosting the likelihood of success in quitting. (See our fact sheet for more information on cigarette warnings.)

The new health warnings are a critical step in implementing the FDA's new authority over tobacco products. Already, the FDA has banned candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes that appeal to kids, imposed new restrictions on tobacco marketing and sales to kids, banned use of the deceptive cigarette labels "light" and "low-tar," and required larger warnings on smokeless tobacco products.

We applaud the members of Congress who approved the FDA law with broad, bipartisan support. Its sponsors include U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Todd Platts (R-PA), U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). We also applaud U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) for championing the requirement for large, graphic cigarette warnings.

The comprehensive plan unveiled by Secretary Sebelius builds on decades of science and experience demonstrating what works to reduce tobacco use and its deadly consequences. It follows the recommendations of numerous public health authorities, including the Institute of Medicine, the President's Cancer Panel and the U.S. Surgeon General.

The Administration and Congress must now provide sufficient funding for these initiatives if they are to succeed. It is especially critical that funding be provided for the national media campaign to prevent children from smoking and help smokers quit. There is also a crucial need to expand services to help smokers quit — including telephone quitlines and insurance coverage for drug therapy and counseling — to meet the increased demand that is likely to follow a national media campaign and the more effective cigarette warnings.

The federal strategy is an essential complement to — and will provide important support for — state efforts to reduce tobacco use. States must also step up their efforts to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including higher tobacco taxes, smoke-free workplace laws and well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

The Administration's plan could not be more timely, as recent surveys have shown that progress in reducing tobacco use has slowed and even stalled. While the United States has made significant progress, 20.6 percent of adults — more than 46 million altogether — and 19.5 percent of high school students still smoke. Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans each year and costs $96 billion in health care expenditures. The plan announced today represents the kind of political will and leadership needed to win the fight against tobacco.