Policy

New cigarette warning labels go graphic; FDA hosts Twitter Q&A today

Tobacco warnings on cigarette packages are already hard to miss, but soon they’ll be impossible to ignore. Among the nine new cigarette warning labels chosen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are images of a woman blowing smoke into her baby’s face, a pair of cancer ridden lungs next to healthy lungs and even […]

Tobacco warnings on cigarette packages are already hard to miss, but soon they’ll be impossible to ignore.

Among the nine new cigarette warning labels chosen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are images of a woman blowing smoke into her baby’s face, a pair of cancer ridden lungs next to healthy lungs and even a corpse on a gurney. The graphic, visual warnings will cover more than half of the front and the back of each cigarette package starting September 2012. They must also appear prominently in the upper portion of all cigarette advertising and occupy at least 20 percent of the advertising area.

The FDA’s authority to issue new warnings comes from the federal Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed into law in 2009. The act’s provisions include a requirement that nine new larger and more noticeable warnings appear on cigarette packages and advertsing. The new warnings are the first change in cigarette warnings in more than 25 years.

“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, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a prepared statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that tobacco use is the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the United States, accounting  for 443,000 deaths each year, and costs $200 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity.

Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, parent company of RJR Tobacco, and Lorillard (NYSE:LO) in Greensboro, North Carolina, are challenging the warnings. In 2009, RJR Tobacco, Lorillard and a number of other tobacco companies sued the FDA in U.S. District Court in Kentucky. They challenged the advertising and marketing restrictions of the law as an unconstitutional infringement of protected free speech. The suit, Commonwealth Brands, Inc., v. United States of America, also challenges the new warning labels as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which bars the taking of private property for public use without just compensation.

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The government will discuss the new cigarette warnings today on social media. Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secreatary for health at HHS, and Dr. Lawrence Deyton, the FDA’s director of the Center for Tobacco Products, will host a Twitter Q&A session at 2:30 p.m. eastern time. Follow FDA’s tobacco discussion under @FDATobacco and the hashtag #cigwarnings. Also, the FDA advises that if you ask a question on Twitter, tag the question #cigwarnings.