New U.S. Cigarette Warnings Show and… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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New U.S. Cigarette Warnings Show and Tell the Deadly Truth about Smoking, Will Boost Efforts to Prevent Kids from Smoking, Encourage Smokers to Quit

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 21, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC (June 21, 2011) — The large, graphic cigarette health warnings unveiled today by the Food and Drug Administration represent a milestone in the fight against tobacco use in the United States. The stark new warnings will provide a much-needed boost to efforts to prevent kids from smoking, encourage smokers to quit and make sure all Americans fully understand the deadly consequences of cigarette smoking.

The FDA selected nine final warnings from 36 proposed in November after careful scientific review, extensive public input and an 18,000-person study to assess the impact of the proposed warnings on various age groups. The final warnings are required by the bipartisan law Congress enacted in 2009 granting the FDA authority over tobacco products and must be placed on all cigarette packs and ads starting in September 2012. With these warnings, the United States is catching up to scientific best practices and joining 43 countries that already require large, graphic cigarette warnings.

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 (see our fact sheet summarizing the evidence).

The tobacco companies continue to spend billions of dollars to play down the health risks of smoking and glamorize tobacco use. These new warnings will tell the truth about how deadly and unglamorous cigarette smoking truly is. Smokers and non-smokers alike will see these warnings every time they pick up a cigarette pack or see a cigarette ad. Research has found that pack-a-day smokers could be exposed to cigarette health warnings more than 7,000 times per year. The new warnings will provide a powerful incentive for smokers to take the life-saving step of quitting and for kids never to try that first cigarette.

The FDA has taken a critical step by including a toll-free telephone quit line number on the warnings, 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Research shows that large, pictorial warnings are effective in motivating smokers to quit, and the 1-800 number will direct smokers to the help they need to quit successfully. Experience in other countries demonstrates that giving people quit line information on the pack effectively promotes efforts to quit.

As required by Congress, the new warnings will 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. The FDA has authority to periodically revise the warnings to keep them fresh and effective based on the latest science.

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 haven't changed in 27 years, go unnoticed on the side of cigarette packs and fail to effectively communicate the serious health risks of smoking.

The new warnings continue FDA's effective implementation of its new authority over tobacco products. The FDA has also banned candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes that appeal to kids, curtailed tobacco marketing and sales to kids, ended use of the deceptive cigarette labels 'light' and 'low-tar,' and required larger warnings on smokeless tobacco products.

The warnings and other FDA regulations are powerful tools, but they are a complement — not a replacement — to other federal and state strategies to reduce tobacco use. To win the fight against tobacco, elected leaders must also fund and implement public education campaigns, expand health care coverage for therapies to help smokers quit, increase tobacco taxes and enact strong smoke-free laws in every state.

Congress approved the 2009 law giving the FDA authority over tobacco products with broad, bipartisan support. Its sponsors included U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Todd Platts (R-PA), former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) championed the requirement for large, graphic cigarette warnings.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans and costing $96 billion in health care expenditures each year.