What happens to people who smoke sometimes “ain’t very pretty.” That is the point of the new labeling rules for cigarettes that the FDA is considering. The label changes for cigarettes would include the requirement of having a graphic pictorial image showing 1 of 12 serious complications of smoking or secondhand smoke exposure along with a text warning describing the complication. Many other countries have had graphic images on cigarettes package labels for many years. The evidence supporting the effectiveness of these kinds of cigarette labels is quite clear. When smokers are exposed to graphic images of potential serious and chronic diseases that are caused by smoking they make more quit attempts and they quit smoking more often than people who are not exposed to these labels.
Until now in the United States cigarette package labels have contained a text warning only that is quite small and on the side of the package. The rotating warnings required under current law contain messages such as cigarettes can cause heart disease or cigarette smoking can cause lung cancer. For the most part, smokers completely ignore these labels. The messages about the health risks of smoking on our current cigarette package labels do not really convey the true risks of smoking like pictures. The saying about pictures being worth 1000 words is really true when it comes to describing the health risks of smoking. Simply reading the words that smoking can cause fatal lung disease is an abstract concept, but seeing a pair of hands in surgical gloves holding diseased lungs from someone who has died from chronic lung disease makes the potential deadly consequences of smoking very real.
The tobacco companies will fight this new rule just as they fought the previous attempt by the FDA to include graphic labels for cigarette packages in 2010. Big tobacco convinced an appeals court that requiring these graphic images was infringing on their 1st amendment rights to free speech. Of course, no one cares to mention that the tobacco companies have taken away from smokers the most important right, which is the right to life.
I believe placing graphic images on tobacco packages is the right thing to do because more smokers will attempt to quit, many people will be successful in quitting and almost all of those who quit will avoid the health consequences portrayed in these pictures. It is time for cigarette package labeling to ”get real.”