New Cigarette Warnings Working Even Before They’re on Packs

July 05, 2011

The Food and Drug Administration's new, graphic warning labels for cigarette packs already have started working: Calls to the 1-800-QUIT-NOW number that appears on the warning labels spiked the day the images hit the media, and call volume stayed unusually high for a week.

On June 21, the day the FDA unveiled the labels that depict diseased lungs, a corpse, and other images showing the true health effects of smoking, there were 4,803 calls to the toll-free quitline number, more than double the number received a week earlier, June 14. Call volume remained elevated for the entire first week after the new labels received widespread attention in the media.

Before Warning Labels Announcement After Warning Labels Announcement
Date Number of Calls Date Number of Calls
Tue. June 14 2,072 Tue. June 21 4,803
Wed. June 15 2,078 Wed. June 22 3,262
Thur. June 16 2,068 Thur. June 23 2,275
Fri. June 17 1,862 Fri. June 24 2,064
Sat. June 18 1,065 Sat. June 25 1,103
Sun. June 19 929 Sun. June 26 961
Mon. June 20 1,971 Mon. June 27 2,282

Source: National Cancer Institute

The evidence that warning labels work is solid and extensive. Studies around the world have repeatedly shown that large, pictorial warnings are most effective at informing consumers about the health risks of smoking, discouraging children and other nonsmokers from starting to smoke, and motivating smokers to quit.

The new U.S. labels will be required on packs starting September, 2012. They will replace smaller, black-and-white text labels that have been in use for more than 25 years and go unnoticed on the sides of packs.

The new, pictorial labels must cover the entire top half of each cigarette pack and 20 percent of cigarette ads. Congress required the graphic labels as part of the 2009 law giving the FDA the authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products.

The law isn't only a landmark, bipartisan political achievement: It's already shown its potential to save lives.