Commentary

FDA Wants 13 Grisly Images Of Smoking's Impact On Cigarette Packs


The Food and Drug Administration yesterday gave us a look at what it hopes 34.3 million adult and 1.4 million smokers aged 12-17 will be prompted to think about any time they purchase a pack of cigarettes. They are the antithesis of the benefits and features Big Tobacco used to promise.

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“Black-tinged lungs. A foot with amputated and gangrenous toes. A sickly boy in an oxygen mask.

“Those unsettling images are among 13 cigarette health warnings the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released  Thursday as part of a proposed rule that would require the graphic images -- along with vivid descriptions -- to appear on all cigarette packaging. The agency calls it the most ‘significant change’ to labels in 35 years and says its intention is to raise awareness about the consequences of smoking,” Lindsey Bever reports  for The Washington Post.

“The federal government wants to scare the living hell out of you -- at least if you’re thinking about smoking…,” observes  Ed Cara for Gizmodo. “And they’re a doozy.”

“Similar health warnings are required on cigarette boxes in other countries but aren’t mandatory in the U.S., where tobacco companies successfully sued to block them. While adult smoking rates have declined in recent decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 480,000 Americans die from cigarette smoking every year,” Jennifer Maloney writes  for The Wall Street Journal.

“The proposal is also a test of the rule-making clout of the agency, after its previous effort to implement pictorial warnings was quashed. In 2012, a group of tobacco companies convinced  an appeals court that the agency’s proposed images violated their First Amendment rights,” Maloney adds. 

In a preliminary ruling in November 2011, Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court in Washington said  the images “appear to be more about shocking and repelling than warning.”

“This time around, however, acting FDA commissioner Ned Sharpless told reporters that the 13 warnings the agency plans to plaster on cigarette packs, hew close to the factual dangers of smoking,” NPR’s Vanessa Romo writes.

“‘While most people assume, in this day and age, that the harms of smoking are pretty well understood by the public, this is not true,” Sharpless said, adding that the existing warning from the Surgeon General that is currently on cigarette packaging has “‘become virtually invisible’ to smokers,” Romo continues.

The warnings proposed yesterday also “[depict] some of the lesser-known, but serious health risks of cigarette smoking,” according to the FDA’s news release, such as stunting fetal growth, impotence and bladder cancer.

“As a cancer doctor and researcher, I am well aware of the staggering toll inflicted on the public health by tobacco products, which cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and other medical problems. While most people assume the public knows all they need to understand about the harms of cigarette smoking, there’s a surprising number of lesser-known risks that both youth and adult smokers and nonsmokers may simply not be aware of, such as bladder cancer, diabetes and conditions that can cause blindness,” states Sharpless.

“Pictorial warning labels on cigarette packs could reduce smoking prevalence by 5% in the short term and 10% over the long term in the United States, according to a study published in the journal Tobacco Control in 2016,” reportsCNN’s Jacqueline Howard.

“The study projected that over the next 50 years, pictorial warning labels could avert 652,800 smoking-attributable deaths, 46,600 cases of low birth weight, 73,600 preterm births and 1,000 cases of sudden infant death syndrome,” she adds.

Meanwhile, the Vapor Technology Association filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Kentucky on Wednesday to delay an upcoming review of thousands of e-cigarettes on the market. 

“The vaping group argued that the latest deadline  of next May to submit products for review could wipe out many of the smaller companies,” the AP’s Matthew Perrone  writes.

“It is time for FDA to stop moving the goalposts and changing the rules in the middle of the game to the detriment of our manufacturers and small businesses,” Tony Abboud, the group’s executive director, says  in a statement.

The nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive. The FDA states that e-cigarette use by high school students is surging and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention maintains   that “many of the themes used in advertising for cigarettes are also now used to advertise e-cigarettes -- including sex, independence, and rebellion.”

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