Warning labels are necessary to inform smokers and potential smokers about the dangers of smoking. But text-only warning labels on cigarette packs do not convey information effectively. Back in 2007, the Institute of Medicine issued a comprehensive report (Growing Up Tobacco-Free: Preventing Nicotine Addiction in Children and Youth) that concluded the current warnings—unchanged since 1987—had become “unnoticed and stale” and “failed to convey relevant information in an effective way.”
Aside from providing factual information about the serious health risks of smoking, we believe that warning labels should be designed to discourage smoking. Studies show that hard-hitting pictorial tobacco warnings on cigarette packs may help smokers quit.
The graphic warning labels that visually depict the health consequences of smoking and which are required under the 2009 Family Smoking and Prevention Tobacco Control Act, would play a life-saving role in highlighting the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit. But in the face of court challenges, the FDA has not yet imposed a final set of labeling requirements.
While we wait, 400,000 people in this country die each year from smoking.
Australia, on the other hand, implemented a new law requiring graphic tobacco warning labels on December 1, 2012, without any legal challenges. While it’s too soon to tell what impact these new graphic labels will have on smoking rates, Aussies have complained that the cigarettes don’t taste the same.
According to the NY Times, the Australian health minister reported that there had been no reformulation of the cigarettes, but that as smokers were confronted with the ugly truth of cigarette smoking, they made the psychological leap to disgusting taste.
Packaging really does cue taste—a good case for graphic warnings.
Why not have cigarette packs warn smokers directly? Researchers in the UK have developed talking cigarette packs that are meant to discourage smokers from lighting up. Every time you open up a pack, an audio clip about the health risks was triggered. In one recording, a helpline number was given.
Some smokers who tried the new talking packs said they would consider quitting or cutting down simply because they found the packs annoying.
Big Tobacco has spent billions of dollars over many decades misleading consumers about smoking’s deadly health effects. The tobacco industry has big pockets and will continue to fight efforts to warn consumers.
We must not relent in our insistence on graphic warnings. Smokers must be properly and effectively warned, so they know what’s at stake and can make a healthier choice.