Are Grisly Warning Labels Coming To US Cigarettes?

Soon US smokers could see the shocking visual warning labels on cigarette packets that Americans have come to identify with Europe. US health officials are making a new push to require graphic images to be placed on every cigarette pack by law across the US to discourage smoking, as the current mere textual warning hasn't changed since 1984. The Associated Press reported this week:

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed 13 new warnings that would appear on all cigarettes, including images of cancerous neck tumors, diseased lungs and feet with amputated toes.

Other color illustrations would warn smokers that cigarettes can cause heart disease, impotence and diabetes. The labels would take up half of the front of cigarette packages and include text warnings, such as “Smoking causes head and neck cancer.” The labels would also appear on tobacco advertisements.

Image source: Medical Daily

Prior attempts of the FDA to enact the illustrations have been defeated on free speech grounds, such as a 2012 federal court ruling saying the tobacco companies can't be forced to put grisly images on their products

Big tobacco has repeatedly invoked the first amendment as the bedrock foundation protecting them from being forced to include labels that are fundamentally “crafted to evoke a strong emotional response.”

Some among the FDA's proposed graphic warnings.

However, the FDA has cited a national health crisis that includes 480,000 smoking-related deaths each year. FDA’s tobacco director Mitch Zeller says the new illustration labels are vital to educating the public. 

“While the public generally understands that cigarette smoking is dangerous, there are significant gaps in their understanding of all of the diseases and conditions associated with smoking,” the spokesperson said.

He added that should the agency be sued on free speech grounds, “we strongly believe this will hold up under any legal challenges.”

Examples of graphic labels in other countries:

Almost 120 countries around the world have thus far enacted legislation or policy requiring the graphic warning labels, with Canada having been the first in 2000. 

In some cases the disturbing illustrative warnings include cadavers and diseased lungs and hearts. 

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