Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 4 - February 2011
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New cigarette warnings in the US

In November, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that for the first time cigarette manufacturers would be required to fill the top half of their packages with coloured, graphic images alerting the public as to the dangers of smoking.

FDA officials stated that a new “comprehensive tobacco control strategy” would include not only these graphic photos but bold statements such as “Smoking can kill you”.

“The FDA takes a crucial step toward reducing the tremendous toll of illness and death caused by tobacco use by proposing to dramatically change how cigarette packages and advertising look in this country. When the rule takes effect, the health consequences of smoking will be obvious every time someone picks up a pack of cigarettes,” said Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, FDA Commissioner, in a prepared statement. “This is a concrete example of how the FDA’s new responsibilities for tobacco product regulation can benefit the public’s health.”

The proposed new deterrents are part of a broader FDA anti-tobacco strategy to combat the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the US, which claims 1,200 lives every day. The plan is a component of a new federal law that gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products, (including marketing and labelling guidelines), ban certain products and limit nicotine.

On March 21, 2000, in the Supreme Court case of the FDA vs Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp, the FDA argued that nicotine was a ‘drug’ and cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are ‘devices’ that deliver nicotine to the body within the meaning of the Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act (FDCA). Congress enacted a number of tobacco-specific laws after the FDCA and the FDA had neglected to exercise any control over tobacco. The Court therefore concluded that Congress did not intend to grant the FDA the power to regulate tobacco, and that the regulations were therefore invalid. Thus, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was introduced and passed in 2009 to respond to that decision. Alongside initiatives like banning flavoured cigarettes, the Act calls for new warning labels on cigarette packages and advertisements.

Gruesome images of dead bodies, diseased lungs and a baby confined to a respirator are just some of the 36 proposed label graphics released for public comment in November, an exercise intended to help the FDA whittle down the final selection by June 22, 2011. The images will be required to take up at least half of a cigarette pack and 20% of an advertisement’s space by October 2012. This will be the first update on cigarette package warnings in the US since 1984 and the first time these warnings will contain images.

– by Joe Strizzi