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US cigarettes get graphic

The Star

Thursday, 23/06/2011

US cigarettes get graphic

Gory warnings only now making their way into American packs

NEW YORK : Graphic new warning labels on cigarette packs that show a diseased lung or rotting teeth may be shocking to US consumers, but those in countries from Egypt to Uruguay may ask: “What’s the big deal?”

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday released nine new labels for cigarette packs that aim to show the dangers of smoking through images such as a diseased lung, a smoker wearing an oxygen mask and an emaciated cancer patient. But more than 40 countries around the world already require warnings as graphic as the new US labels, if not more so.

The US warnings – the biggest change to the labels in 25 years – use mostly fear and disgust to discourage Americans from smoking.

The FDA estimates the new labels will cut the number of smokers by 213,000 in 2013, with smaller additional reductions through 2031.

Although it is impossible to attribute reduced smoking rates to any single cause, in Canada, Brazil, Thailand and other countries, stronger warnings have been associated with an increase in the number of smokers trying to quit.

“We are so far behind,” says Michael Cummings, chair of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s Department of Health Behavior.

“We’re a third world nation when it comes to educating the public on the risks of smoking.”

The new warning labels include images of cigarette smoke coming out of a tracheotomy hole in a man’s neck, a mother and baby with smoke swirling nearby and a sewn-up corpse. They will take up the entire top half- both front and back – of a pack of cigarettes.

They must also appear in advertisements and constitute 20% of each ad. Cigarette makers will have to run all nine labels on a rotating basis. They have until next year to comply.

Before the new labels were introduced, the US had some of the weakest cigarette warnings in the world. The introduction of the graphic labels was required in a 2009 law that, for the first time, gave the federal government authority to regulate tobacco.

The US first mandated the use of warning labels stating, “Cigarettes may be hazardous to your health” in 1965.

The current warning labels – put on cigarette pack in the mid – 1980s – say more explicitly that smoking can cause lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. But they are text-only blurbs found in a small box on the side of the pack.

The new labels with the graphic images, the government acknowledges, are graphic but much-needed.

Tobacco use costs the US economy nearly US$200bil (RM600bil) annually in medical costs and lost productivity, the FDA said.

Tobacco use also is responsible for about 443, 000 deaths a year in the US.

“Some of the powerful images certainly are a reminder of the health risks. Some of the images like the one of the mouth with the sort of rotting, dirty teeth and the ulcerating lesion on the lip are also reminders that smoking causes disfigurement,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said at a White House briefing.

“And I think that those are very powerful messages.”

The US is following the lead of other countries. Many have introduced graphic labels and some are seeing results.

Uruguay has some of the world’s strongest warning labels. The government requires that 80% of the front and back of all cigarette packages be devoted to warnings.

One version shows a person smoking a battery like it is a cigarette to illustrate that both products contain the toxic metal cadmium.

In Brazil, labels feature graphic images of dead fetuses, hemorrhaging brains and gangrened feet. They also fill an entire face of a cigarette box.

In a survey, 54% of Brazilian smoker said these gory warning had changed their opinion on the health consequences of smoking, while more than two-thirds said the images boosted their desire to quit, according to a report by World Health Organisation researchers. – AP


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