Today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch reproduced on the front page most of a story by New York Times reporter Duff Wilson. The Post-Dispatch headline in the print version was “Labels pull no punches on cigarettes” but on-line it was “New FDA cigarette-pack labels are graphic, gruesome.”
The NYT story headline was “U.S. Releases Graphic Images to Deter Smokers” and kicked off by showing 8 of them. The ninth shows a smoker exhaling through a stoma, a hole in his throat resulting from laryngeal cancer surgery. That, of course, demonstrates the powerfully addictive nature of nicotine: when you still can’t quit after surviving that kind of life-threatening operation.
It’s really hard to predict with certainty this latest effort to reduce smoking rates.
Previously, the most effective programs were those like the first one started in California and funded by a statewide proposition which paid for hard-hitting TV ads. One of the best, with a memorable punch line, shows cigarette executives in a darkened conference room with tobacco smoke wafting towards the ceiling discussing the need to recruit more smokers. An executive at the head of the table says:
“Gentlemen, gentlemen. The tobacco industry has a very serious multi-billion-dollar problem.
We need more cigarette smokers. Pure and simple.
Every day, 2,000 Americans stop smoking and another 1,178 also quit. Actually, technically, they die.
That means that this business needs 3,000 fresh, new volunteers every day.
So, forget all that cancer, heart disease, stroke stuff.
Gentlemen, we’re not in this for our health.”
(He laughs, and the others join in.)
For those who are smoke-sensitive, the fewer smokers the less likelihood of scofflaws polluting the air with tobacco smoke, and the more likely that politicians will do their job and implement comprehensive smoke-free air ordinances instead of worrying about offending smokers.
Incidentally, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch version of the story added some quotes from Bill Hannegan, obtained by health reporter Blythe Bernhard, which I’ve highlighted below.
By DUFF WILSON • New York Times | Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 12:00 amFederal health officials released on Tuesday their final selection of nine graphic warning labels to cover the top half of cigarette packages beginning next year, over the opposition of tobacco manufacturers.
In the first major change to warning labels in more than a quarter-century, the graphic images will include photographs of horribly damaged teeth and lungs and a man exhaling smoke through a tracheotomy opening in his neck. The Department of Health and Human Services selected nine color images among 36 proposed to accompany larger text warnings.
Health advocacy groups praised the government plan in the hope that images would shock and deter new smokers and motivate current smokers to quit.
The images are to cover the upper half of the front and back of cigarette packages produced after September 2012, as well as 20 percent of the space in cigarette advertisements.
“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,” Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Tuesday in a statement.
Bill Hannegan, a St. Louis opponent of smoking bans, said he agreed with some limits on tobacco advertising. But he called the new package labels a “hostile and offensive” action by the government.
“This campaign crosses a line of what can be done in a civil society, even for the sake of someone’s health,” Hannegan said. “And I don’t think it will work.”
The four leading tobacco companies were all threatening legal action, saying the images would unfairly hurt their property and free speech rights by obscuring their brand names in retail displays, demonizing the companies and stigmatizing smokers.
The government won one case last year in a federal court in Kentucky on its overall ability to require larger warning labels with images; the specific images released Tuesday are likely to stir further legal action. The Kentucky case is before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The new labels were required under landmark antismoking legislation giving the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate, but not ban, tobacco products. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act required FDA action on the graphic warning labels by today, the second anniversary of President Barack Obama’s signing it into law.
The United States was the first nation to require a health warning on cigarette packages more than 25 years ago; but since then, at least 39 other nations, including Canada and many in Europe, have imposed more eye-catching warnings, including graphic photographs.
“This is a critical moment for the United States to move forward in this area,” the FDA commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, said in an interview. “The trends in smoking really support the need for more action now. For four decades, there was a steady decline in smoking, but five to seven years ago, we leveled off at about the 20 percent level of adult and youth smoking in this country.”
Dr. Lawrence Deyton, director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA, said the government estimated — based on other countries’ experience — that the new warning labels would prompt an additional 213,000 Americans to quit smoking next year.
The nine images chosen in the United States include some that are among the most graphic of the 36 draft images. But they also include some of the less vivid.
The images, which are to appear on cigarette packs on a rotating basis, also include one of a man proudly wearing a T-shirt that says: “I QUIT.”
All of the packs will also display a toll-free telephone number for smoking cessation services.
The government surveyed 18,000 Americans of all ages to determine which of the 36 proposed labels would be most effective to deter smoking.
Blythe Bernhard of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.