FDA finally changes Tobacco Packaging

Gum disease, lung cancer and rotting teeth are nothing to joke about and they are real consequences that smokers face.  On Tuesday June 21st the U.S Food and Drug Administration released the nine new tobacco warning labels that need to be on every cigarette package by September 2012.  The new images are disturbing and they are meant to be as the FDA continues to find new ways to reduce the recently stagnant levels of smokers in the U.S.  The main goal of the new packaging is to stop younger children and teenagers from picking up the habit of smoking and I believe that this campaign is a step in the right direction and that these full color warnings will put a picture in the mind of a child/teenager when they pick up a pack of cigarettes.  These full color ads will help curb the amount of new smokers and help those teetering on the edge of quitting to finally quit.

Since 1965 tobacco companies were required to include the Surgeon General’s warning on their tobacco products.  According to ABC news’ Lara Salahi “the U.S was the first country to require health warnings on tobacco products.  But it is now playing catch-up to more than 30 countries that already require large, graphic cigarette warnings.”  The current warning is in a small text box with black text located on the side of most cigarette boxes.  The Star-Advertiser reports that in 2009 a new law was passed that gave the FDA the ability to regulate tobacco, which includes how they package and sell their products.  This law was signed by President Obama and named the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the federal government the power to hand the marketing reigns of tobacco over to the FDA.  These final nine labels came from a study of 36 that were whittled down to those thought to be most effective which include:  a sick smoker smoking out of a tracheotomy hole, an elderly man struggling for breath with an oxygen mask, a diseased lung, a mouth with rotting teeth and a deformed lip, as well as a cartoon baby crying in an incubator.  The nine labels will need to be rotated on different products. And need to take up the top 50% and 20% of all tobacco advertising must include the images as well as the sayings “Warning Smoking Kills” and the 1-800-QuitNow number.


Smoking is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S which makes it a relevant topic for all of us.  I am a non-smoker by choice, above the peer pressure in high school and the fact that I live in household with a smoker.  I believe that putting a picture to words has always helped me and that creating a visual picture of the devastating effects that cigarettes can have on a person will prove effective. Those who support the new labels believe that it has been a long time coming since the current tobacco warnings haven’t changed for the past 25 years.  FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said that the small text currently on tobacco products “have lost their power and effect.”  Supporters believe that the shock value of these images needs to be gruesome in order to have the effect that the FDA is going for.    We are actually lucky that these images aren’t worst because according to CBS news “40 other countries require cigarette warning labels at least as graphic [as] the nine new by the United States.”  These pictures need to be able to evoke emotions in the smoker whether it is shame, anger, shock, or sadness.  There is no way to look at these images and brush them off.  CBS news also points to a study done in Canada after they implemented a picture warning on tobacco products, which showed a 6% decrease in smokes from 26% to 20%.  At the very least the World Health Organization said “in a survey done in countries with graphic warning labels that a majority of smokers noticed the warnings and more than 25 percent said the warnings led them to consider quitting.”

On the other side of the argument are people who believe that the new graphic warnings are just a waste of time and money because it is not an effective way to neither get people to quit smoking nor decide to not start.  Smokers usually focus on the short-term pleasure they receive from smoking, which means that even though in the future they could possibly have these side effects it doesn’t affect them at the moment.  Art Markman, Ph.D. for the Huffington post wrote that the FDA should be aware of “the Terror Management Theory […] is the idea we are able to imagine our own deaths, but we have a variety of psychological mechanisms that help us manage the terror that comes along with being able to contemplate that someday we will die.”  I take that as, though we have already grown to figure out ways to convince ourselves that it will never happen.  This is probably true for those who have already been smoking for years and are already addicted.  Behavioral psychologist Carol Tavris said “Social psychologists have decades of research showing that fear communications generally backfire, that people tune them out, and therefore that these tactics are generally not effective […] unless combined with an immediate action the person can do to alleviate the fear.”  The FDA rebuttals the argument by saying the immediate action is to quit or at least to realize the detrimental effects of continuing to smoke.  That is why I believe that these images will have the best effect on those that are deciding to pick up the habit and deciding whether or not to quit

It is not only those who smoke that are affected but also those around them. Smoking and tobacco products have been around for a long time and so have the disastrous and scary effects they can have on a person.  The FDA is taking the right steps to putting a picture on those consequences and makes it more relevant to new smokers.  The new designs are full color and will take up half the box and I believe will impact the mentality of young smokers.  These campaigns have been around in other countries for many of years and the U.S is finally stepping up.  We will not know the statistics of the success of the labels until they fully take effect next fall.  Smoking is a dangerous and deadly habit and the fact that the FDA now has control of much of what goes on with marketing and packaging for tobacco companies; there should be a decline in smokers and smoking related deaths.


One Comment to “FDA finally changes Tobacco Packaging”

  1. After reading your post I can see why one would think that this is a good idea. But overall there didn’t seem to be enough evidence backing up the FDA’s decision to use the pictures. In the end, even if it helps a small percentage, it would just waste more time and money. I don’t feel like the pictures would help to make a big of a difference because it is already known that smoking is bad for you, yet many choose to continue smoking, so just by adding an image, it doesn’t mean that these smokers or going-to-be smokers will be persuaded to drop the cigarette. They probably have already seen an picture of it and already have that mindset of “it’s not going to happen to me.”

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