WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will require larger, more prominent cigarette health warnings on all cigarette packaging and advertisements starting in September 2012.
The requirement marks the first change in cigarette warnings in more than 25 years. | SEE FDA ANNOUNCEMENT
The agency said the final set of cigarette health warnings contains nine different messages and accompanying color graphics. The images and messages are designed to increase public awareness of specific health risks associated with smoking, encourage smokers to quit and persuade youth to avoid tobacco.
The FDA website revealed that its deliberately disturbing warnings include images of corpses, cancer-ridden lungs and a man exhaling smoke through a tracheotomy hole in his neck.
Tobacco marketers will be required to cover the top half of cigarette boxes and 20% of tobacco advertisements with one of the nine images.
Some 43 million U.S. citizens, 21% of the population, are smokers despite the steady drumbeat of health warnings and decades of rising prices. Federal and state excise taxes have pushed tobacco retail costs to more than $5 a pack nationwide, and even higher in some markets.
Congress gave the FDA the power to regulate tobacco products in 2009 when it passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
A coalition of major tobacco marketers and manufacturers have sued the agency, charging violation of free speech for its marketing requirements. A lower court sided with the government, but the tobacco industry has filed an appeal. That case is slated to be heard in July in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
A similar case is also pending in Australia where Philip Morris has sued the government for requiring similarly graphic labels on its products. In the UK, the government is considering a requirement that tobacco products be sold only in unbranded packaging.
Reynolds America and Philip Morris had no specific comment on the new FDA requirements at the time of their announcement.