It’s About Time Cigarette Warnings Got Serious

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally wants to change the way cigarette packs look. It’s not seeking to change the color of the packs or the size and shape of cigarettes. It finally wants to change the content and position of the health warnings. And, it’s about time they did.

More than forty years after the first warnings were placed on the side of packs, the first serious changes to the warnings are being proposed by the FDA. In an effort to join the look of cigarette packs sold throughout Europe and in Canada, the FDA has finally decided that putting an innocuous warning in small print on the side of the packs is no longer enough to effectively pass on the meaning of the warnings to smokers in the United States.

Health care costs and lost work time relating to cigarette smoking costs the American economy nearly $200 billion a year. 46 million Americans are smokers (21 percent of the population), including nearly 3.5 million high school students. Cigarette use is the single largest cause of preventable death in the United States; more than 443,000 people die annually from a smoking-related illness. More than 8 million Americans suffer from some form of illness directly linked to second-hand smoke exposure.

The Tobacco Control Act (TCA) requires the FDA issue final regulations requiring these color graphics by June 22, 2011; although the new health warnings on both cigarette packs and in all cigarette advertising won’t take effect until the fall of 2012. When enacting the TCA, Congress made the following findings (among 48 findings):

  1. The use of tobacco products by the Nation’s children is a pediatric disease of considerable proportions that results in new generations of tobacco-dependent children and adults.
  2. A consensus exists within the scientific and medical communities that tobacco products are inherently dangerous and cause cancer, heart disease, and other serious adverse health effects.
  3. Nicotine is an addictive drug.
  4. Virtually all new users of tobacco products are under the minimum legal age to purchase such products.
  5. Tobacco advertising and marketing contribute significantly to the use of nicotine-containing tobacco products by adolescents.
  6. Because past efforts to restrict advertising and marketing of tobacco products have failed adequately to curb tobacco use by adolescents, comprehensive restrictions on the sale, promotion, and distribution of such products are needed.
  7. Federal and State governments have lacked the legal and regulatory authority and resources they need to address comprehensively the public health and societal problems caused by the use of tobacco products.

Not only does the FDA want to change the content, color, graphic nature and location of the warnings, it wants input about the proposed changes. Consumers have until January 11, 2011 to submit comments either online, by fax or mail.

  • Go to and insert docket number FDA-2010-N-0568 into the “search” box and follow the prompts.
  • Send a fax, with your comments, to 301-827-6870.
  • Mail/Hand delivery/Courier (for paper, disk, or CD-ROM submissions) to the Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, Rockville, MD 20852.

All comments should be identified by Docket ID No. FDA-2010-N-0568. It is only necessary to send one set of comments. To view the new proposed warning labels, go to

It comes as little surprise that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and several of the smaller cigarette manufacturers have filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the proposed warning labels from being placed on packs of cigarettes. Despite claims that they are now “responsible corporate citizens” in their PR campaigns, these companies are claiming that it is unconstitutional to force them to place the larger, more graphic, color warnings on the fronts of their cigarette packs.

As a life-long nonsmoker, I hope they lose their lawsuit. I hope the number of smokers in the United States drops from 46 million to zero. I hope the tobacco farms are replaced with renewable energy farms or vegetable farms or dairy farms. I hope we will all stop having family members die from lung cancer and COPD and throat cancer and bladder cancer and circulation problems, just to name a few of the illnesses caused by smoking.

And, if for no other reason, I hope we can stop all kids from lighting their very first cigarette. The FDA needs to take this step before it’s too late for every kid who hasn’t started smoking and to stop worrying about the tobacco manufacturers.

It’s about time.


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