U.S. ranks last in size of cigarette warnings

In 1966 the U.S. was the first country in the world to put health warnings on the cigarette pack.  Now as 118 countries require graphic (picture) warnings and 107 require the warnings to cover a minimum of 50 percent of the front and back of the pack, the U.S. is still stuck in a time warp with small, text-only messages on the side of the pack that haven’t been updated since 1984, and are almost unseen by users.  But it isn’t like the U.S. hasn’t tried to move forward.

In 2009, when the Family Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law, one of the key features was new graphic, color warning labels that were to be placed on cigarette packs covering 50 percent of the front and back of the pack by 2012.  The Act was barely passed when a tobacco company filed suit stating restricting what was on the pack amounted to infringement of their First Amendment and forced the tobacco industry to “engage in anti-smoking advocacy” that benefited the government.  The suit worked it way through the court system until the Supreme Court declined to hear a tobacco industry appeal and upheld the law.  That’s where it stopped and nothing more was done until 2016 when a lawsuit was filed by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, public health and medical groups, and individual pediatricians stating “the FDA had both ‘unlawfully withheld’ and ‘unreasonably delayed’ agency action to require the graphic warnings.”  In other words, the FDA is “still legally obligated to require graphic health warnings.”  They just need to use different images than those that were “struck down” by the D.C. Circuit. In September of this year a federal court ordered the FDA to move forward with graphic warnings.

Other countries are so much further ahead than the U.S. in providing health warnings on tobacco.  In 1989 Canada rolled out their first set of four warnings printed on the front and back of all tobacco products sold legally.  By 1994 the warnings had to cover 25% of the top of the package and included 8 messages.  Six years later new regulations required the 16 new warnings had to cover 50% of the front and back of the surface and included a picture illustrating the warning.  Health Canada is now looking into mandating plain packaging. In 2012 Australia became the first country to require plain packaging and graphic warning labels and their success at lowering their smoking rates has prompted other countries to move forward with their own plans.  According to studies the warnings “have been found to inform smokers about the health hazards of smoking, encourage smokers to quit, and prevent nonsmokers from starting to smoke,” especially youth.  Today 9 countries and territories have adopted plain packaging and 16 others are working on it.

With 480,000 people dying every year in the U.S. from tobacco-related health issues, it is time for the U.S. to do what is right by the American people and put public health first.

Click HERE for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Press Release


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