20 August, 2019
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a rule to require new health warnings on tobacco products. The proposed warnings would appear on individual cigarette packages and in advertising.
Cigarette packs would have realistic color pictures showing some of the lesser-known, but serious health risks of smoking. They include a smoker's increased risk of developing conditions such as diabetes as well as lung cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration, also called FDA, is the federal agency responsible for protecting the health of people in the United States.
Not only do the proposed warnings contain graphic images, the written information would also be easier to see. In a statement, FDA officials said the agency did research and found that many people did not read its small text-only warnings.
The statement described the proposed rule as the "most significant change to cigarette labels in more than 35 years."
The proposal would add 13 new health warnings.
Doctor Ned Sharpless is a cancer specialist and the head of the FDA. In a statement, Sharpless noted that "tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S." He said it "kills more people each year than alcohol, HIV, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined."
Sharpless added that the FDA remains "committed to educating the public, especially America's youth, about the dangers associated with using cigarettes and other tobacco products."
The agency said that "over 16 million Americans alive today live with disease caused by cigarette smoking." It added that "tobacco use also costs more than $300 billion a year in direct health care costs and lost productivity."
First Amendment court battle
This is not the first time FDA officials have tried to add graphic images to tobacco warnings. In 2011, the agency proposed similar warnings. But cigarette companies took legal action to stop them. The companies claimed the graphic warnings violated their constitutional right of freedom of speech. In 2012, tobacco companies won in court.
Kaelan Hollon, is a spokesperson for tobacco company Reynolds American Incorporated. She said that Reynolds is currently studying the FDA's latest proposal.
The Reuters news agency reports that following the 2012 ruling, several health groups brought their own case to court. A "judge issued an order in March 2019 directing the agency to publish a proposed rule by August  and issue a final rule in March 2020."
The current proposal is open to public comment until October 15.
Last month, the World Health Organization expressed its support for the use of graphic images in tobacco warnings.
Studies in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand, the WHO said, "consistently show that pictorial warnings significantly increase people's awareness of the harms from tobacco use."
In the same statement, the WHO called tobacco use an "epidemic" and "one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced."
The statement also provided the following information:
- Tobacco kills up to half of its users.
- Around the world, tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. Around 1.2 million of those deaths are non-smokers who breathe in second-hand smoke.
- Around 80% of the world's 1.1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.
I'm Anna Matteo.
Anna Matteo adapted this Reuters news story for VOA Learning English, adding more information from the FDA and WHO. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
package – n. a container that covers or holds something
graphic – adj. shown or described in a very clear way
text – n. the main body of printed or written matter on a page
significant – adj. having meaning
committed – adj. willing to give your time, energy, etc., to something
associated – adj. related, connected, or combined together
issued – v. to announce (something) in a public and official way
consistent – adj. always acting or behaving in the same way : consistently – adv.
epidemic – n. an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time : an outbreak of epidemic disease
second-hand smoke – n. tobacco smoke that is exhaled by smokers or is given off by burning tobacco and is inhaled by persons nearby