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New Survey on Effectiveness of Graphic Canadian Cigarette Warning Labels Underscores Need for Stronger Action in U.S.

Statement by Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 09, 2002

Washington, DC — One year after Canada required large, picture-based health warnings on cigarette packs that depict the devastating effects of tobacco use on the human body, a new national survey released today by the Canadian Cancer Society shows that the new warnings are highly effective at discouraging smoking. The effectiveness of Canada's graphic warnings underscores the woeful inadequacy of the current cigarette health warnings in the United States. It should spur Congress to enact legislation granting the U.S Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, including the authority to require larger, more visible and more effective warnings. Congress should also enact the legislation that U.S. Reps. James Hansen (R-UT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA) are planning to introduce as soon as Congress reconvenes. The proposed legislation would require larger, picture-based health warnings on U.S. tobacco products. Americans should have the same level of information about and protection from tobacco's dangers as our Canadian neighbors.

Under Canada's law, the top 50 percent of the front and back of each cigarette package must depict one of 16 rotated, full-color, picture-based warnings. The graphic pictures include a diseased mouth, a lung tumor, a brain after a stroke, a damaged heart and a limp cigarette as part of an impotence warning. Inside the package, one of 16 additional rotated messages are required, nine of which contain tips on quitting. As a result, Canadians receive detailed, highly visible information about both the magnitude of the health risks they face and the practical steps they can take to quit. Similar information should be made available to U.S. smokers.

The survey, conducted September 19 — October 10, 2001, found that 90 percent of Canadian smokers had noticed the new warnings (compared to 49 percent of non-smokers), and 43 percent of smokers said they are more concerned about the health effects of smoking because of the warnings. Forty-four percent of smokers said the new warnings increased their motivation to quit smoking, and of those who attempted to quit, 38 percent said the warnings were a motivating factor. The survey was funded by the Institute of Cancer Research of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The success of Canada's warning labels stands in marked contrast to the labels on cigarette packs in the United States, which are having virtually no effect on smoking prevalence. Studies indicate that fewer than 5 percent of U.S. smokers even see the warnings. That's not surprising as the U.S. warnings are weak, outdated, incomplete, and not nearly as graphic and prominent as they should be. Despite attempts by some members of Congress to legislate more effective warning labels, the warnings have changed hardly at all since Congress mandated the first warning labels on U.S. cigarette packs in 1965.

The Canadian survey vividly demonstrates that cigarette warning labels that actually get smokers' attention can play a major role in reducing the devastating effects of tobacco, which still addicts far too many of our kids and decimates far too many American families.

(More information on the Canadian survey; view the Canadian health warnings.)