The AAP and other health groups say newly proposed graphic cigarette warning labels are long overdue and urged federal health officials to finalize them quickly.
“The new graphic warnings are a dramatic improvement over the current text-only warnings that have become stale and unnoticed, they are supported by extensive scientific evidence, and they will help the United States catch up to the 120-plus countries that have adopted this best-practice strategy to reduce tobacco use and save lives,” the groups said in a news release.
About 480,000 Americans die each year from tobacco-related illnesses. The 13 warnings released Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alert cigarette users to a potential harm of smoking, including heart disease, lung disease, type 2 diabetes, cataracts, illnesses in children, several types of cancer, and more. Each warning is accompanied by a color photo depicting the condition and would take up the top half of the front and back of cigarette packages and the top 20% of cigarette ads.
“With these new proposed cigarette health warnings, we have an enormous public health opportunity to fulfill our statutory mandate and increase the public’s understanding of the full scope of serious negative health consequences of cigarette smoking,” Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D., said in a news release. “Given that tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., there’s a lot at stake to ensure the public understands these risks.”
The AAP and its partners — The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Truth Initiative — did not weigh in on the specific warnings but said they would provide feedback to the FDA during the 60-day comment period on the proposal.
Cigarette packs have had text warnings since the 1960s, but they have not been updated for more than 30 years, so they often go unnoticed. The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act required graphic warnings, but when the FDA released the images two years later, they were challenged in court by tobacco companies.
In two 2012 cases, U.S. Court of Appeals judges struck down those specific images, while another panel upheld the FDA’s legal obligation to implement some type of graphic warnings.
Four years later, the FDA still had not issued the new images, and the health groups filed a lawsuit. Last fall, a judge ordered the FDA to speed up the release of proposed warnings.
The FDA has until March 15, 2020, to finalize them. The health groups urged it to do so quickly and to defend against expected challenges from the tobacco industry.
“The tobacco industry cannot be allowed to further delay these necessary warnings that show and tell the truth about the deadly consequences of smoking,” the groups said. “We cannot afford more delays — not when tobacco use still kills half a million Americans and costs the nation $170 billion in health care expenses each year.”