The United States has been lagging behind other countries with regards to cigarette warnings. In fact, the FDA has not updated cigarette pack warnings for over 30 years, since 1984.

Finally, in the Summer of 2019, the FDA put forward proposals for new regulations requiring new effective graphic health warnings that cover at least 50% of the surface area of cigarette packages. The new warnings carry messages such as “Smoking reduces blood flow to the limbs, which can require amputation,” and “Smoking causes bladder cancer, which can lead to bloody urine.”

The ‘effective date’ delayed until October 16th 2021

In total there are 11 warnings featuring such statements that are accompanied by color graphic images of health conditions caused by smoking. Originally set to go into effect on June 18th, 2021, the FDA has now delayed the ‘effective date’ until October 16, 2021.

“The 11 finalized cigarette health warnings represent the most significant change to cigarette labels in more than 35 years and will considerably increase public awareness of lesser-known, but serious negative health consequences of cigarette smoking,” said director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Mitch Zeller.

“Research shows that the current warnings on cigarettes, which have not changed since 1984, have become virtually invisible to both smokers and nonsmokers, in part because of their small size, location and lack of an image. Additionally, research shows substantial gaps remain in the public’s knowledge of the harms of cigarette smoking, and smokers have misinformation about cigarettes and their negative health effects.”

Multiple flaws in the new warnings

“The US warnings have a number of problems. Few have a serious magnitude of risk component.”
However, an article in BMJ’s Tobacco Control has pointed out that these new warnings still leave much to be desired. “The US warnings have a number of problems. Few have a serious magnitude of risk component. They do not include the TID element suggesting that the product in the package is the problem. ‘Smoking’, in all of the texts, keeps the responsibility for addiction largely on the victim. Problems with texts exist throughout,” read the article.

“Few copywriters would weaken a message by putting important information in subordinate clauses, for example, ‘which can require amputation’ or ‘which can cause erectile dysfunction’. Short, creative sentences are a key to effective communication. As well, the space mandated for these warnings is sufficient to accommodate more comprehensive texts. And a graphic flaw: why would the marker WARNING not be printed in red ink to underline the importance of the message?”

The author, who was at the helm of Canada’s Non-Smokers’ Rights Association (NSRA) from 1976 to 2012, added that there are significant other textual and graphic flaws in the imminent US warning system. He explained that a packet acts as a mini (and most significant) billboard. To this effect, local health entities need to press governments to set in place effective warnings.

“Given that an effective warning system on tobacco packaging can be the cornerstone of public education on tobacco in every country, health groups should press their governments to produce effective warnings and frequent revisions to prevent risk messaging from becoming stale.”

“Finally, health interests might review the WHO booklet ‘Canada’s Tobacco Package Label or Warning System: ‘Telling the Truth’ about Tobacco Product Risks’ prepared for the Tobacco Free Initiative. This document contains a more extensive list of elements that would improve any warning system,” concluded the author.

Court-mandated anti-smoking ads

Meanwhile, as of November 2017, prime-time US tv has been featuring court-mandated adverts against smoking. These segments are funded by Altria group which owns Philip Morris USA, and British American Tobacco PLC (BAT), and came as a result of a lawsuit against the companies, which also forced the same companies to release anti-smoking warnings on their websites.

Federal Court Postpones FDA Graphic Cigarette Warnings

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