Thursday, June 23, 2011

Graphic Images to Deter Smokers

NY TImes | June 21, 2011
U.S. Releases Graphic Images to Deter Smokers

Federal health officials released on Tuesday their final selection of nine graphic warning labels to cover the top half of cigarette packages beginning next year, over the opposition of tobacco manufacturers.

In the first major change to warning labels in more than a quarter-century, the graphic images will include photos of horribly damaged teeth and lungs and a man exhaling smoke through a tracheotomy opening in his neck. The Department of Health and Human Services selected nine color images among 36 proposed to accompany larger text warnings.

Health advocacy groups praised the government plan in the hope that images would shock and deter new smokers and motivate existing smokers to quit. The images are to cover the upper half of the front and back of cigarette packages produced after September 2012, as well as 20 percent of the space in cigarette advertisements.

“These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking, and they will help encourage smokers to quit, and prevent children from smoking,” Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Tuesday in a statement.

The four leading tobacco companies were all threatening legal action, saying the images would unfairly hurt their property and free-speech rights by obscuring their brand names in retail displays, demonizing the companies and stigmatizing smokers.

The government won one case last year in a federal court in Kentucky on its overall ability to require larger warning labels with images; the specific images released Tuesday are likely to stir further legal action. The Kentucky case is before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The new labels were required under landmark antismoking legislation giving the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate, but not ban, tobacco products. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act required F.D.A. action on the graphic warning labels by Wednesday, two years after President Obama signed it into law.

The United States was the first nation to require a health warning on cigarette packages 45 years ago. Since then, at least 39 other nations, including Canada and many in Europe, have imposed more eye-catching warnings, including graphic photos.

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