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Graphic images for US cigarette packs

12th November 2010

The US drug and food safety agency will soon require cigarette packets to display graphic images related to the health impact of smoking tobacco.

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The new standards will bring in images and text that strongly warn of the dangers of smoking, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it would bring in the first major change to cigarette packaging in a quarter-century.

The new labels will contain graphic warnings that cover half the front of a packet, and the top fifth of all cigarette advertisements.

The text will state either that smoking is addictive, or that it kills.

It will be accompanied by such drawings or photos as diseased lungs, corpses or someone smoking a cigarette through a tracheotomy tube.

Some used in other countries are even grimmer, regulators admit. However, they hope they will scare young people off from ever starting to smoke in the first place.

They may also lend impetus to smokers who are trying to kick the habit.

The FDA was given the power to regulate tobacco products by legislation passed in June 2009.

According to the new regulations, manufacturers must begin putting warnings on packages and in advertising by 22 September 2012. By 22 October 2012, they will be banned from selling any cigarettes that do not carry the warnings.

Sebelius said the government wanted to make sure every person who picked up a pack of cigarettes knew exactly what the risks were.

Currently, US cigarettes only carry a written warning on the edge of the cigarette pack and a relatively small warning at the bottom of ads.

Tobacco control expert Stanton Glant at the University of California in San Francisco said he was pleasantly shocked at the move.

He said there was no question that strong graphic warning labels were effective, and were most likely to have an effect on children.

He said US label warnings were currently the weakest in the world.

Other campaigners said the move did not go far enough.

John Banzhaf III, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, said Sebelius' department had done exactly what Congress told them to do, and not a jot more.

Canada has had strong package warnings for a decade now, while other countries had stronger, more graphic pictures, he said.

The FDA will choose nine labels over the next few months, and manufacturers must begin putting them on packages by the following year.

While US smoking rates declined from about 42% in 1965 to under 21% in 2004, officials are concerned that no further reduction has been seen.

Sebelius said that 4,000 young people nationwide try cigarettes for the first time every day.

The American Association for Cancer Research has linked smoking to at least 18 types of cancer, and it also plays a major role in the onset of cardiovascular disease.

The deaths of 450,000 Americans every year from smoking-related causes are entirely preventable, experts said.

Now, the government wants to bring the smoking rate down to 12% by 2020.

 

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