New tobacco warning labels may be coming to a cigarette pack near you. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 is a law that gives power to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry. One of the amendments of the bill voted on by the Senate “requires that cigarette health warning labels be large enough to make up 50 percent of the front and rear panels of the package and that the word “warning” appear in capital letters.” Nine new textual warnings along with color graphics will depict the negative health consequences of smoking. It should be noted that cigars and smokeless tobacco products are not mentioned. The FDA has until June 22, 2011 to issue the final regulations on the color graphics, and the new warnings will take effect 15 months after final rule. The graphics and warnings are also required on cigarette advertising and will cover 20% on each advertisement.
Starting last June, tobacco companies could no longer use the terms “light,” “mild” or “low” on packages or in advertising. They get around these laws by using colors and numbers to give a false sense of a healthier product. Companies use “gold” and “silver” to distinguish mildness. Smokers who see cigarettes in white, silver or light colored packs think the product is less harmful. Menthol cigarettes are associated with green packs, mild products in blue, and full-flavored in red packs. Three studies conclude cigarettes should be sold in standardized plain packs, with coloring and wording restricted.
After looking at the proposed graphics I am very disappointed. They are too cartoonish. They aren’t strong enough. They aren’t “real.” One of the goals of the law was to discourage minors and young adults from smoking. You can’t do that with cartoons. Kids will tell you, if you want to make an impact on people not smoking, then make it real, show real people who have real-life problems caused by smoking. What does blowing a bubble have to do with quitting smoking? I understand the correlation between quitting and breathing easier, but show a lung severely damaged by smoking, there are plenty. Show the obituary of a young adult who lost their life to smoking, there are plenty. Show the effects of mouth cancer using a real picture, not a computer generated one, because there are plenty of those too. One label warns of fatal lung disease, but the “diseased” lung is not even real, and in another label mock-up the “lungs” are made out of discarded cigarettes shaped to look like lungs.
Why is the FDA trying to sugar coat the warnings of a disastrous product that kills over 443,000 Americans each year? Although the number of smokers in the U.S. has been cut in half since 1965 when the first simple text Surgeon General’s warning labels went on cigarette packages, the addiction to nicotine is still as strong and smoking is still as harmful. If the U.S. Government is serious about Americans quitting smoking, they need to be serious about how cigarettes are packaged and get with the times.