Graphic cigarette labels: Convincing or disturbing?

Diseased lungs, rotting teeth and gums and dead bodies are some of the graphic images that cigarette companies will be required to display on their cigarette packs and advertisements starting in Fall 2012. The images also include phrases like “Smoking can kill you” and “Cigarettes cause cancer.” The new labeling requirements are an initiative by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to effectively illustrate and communicate the harms of tobacco use. This is an important campaign that could ultimately reduce the estimated 443,000 tobacco-related deaths each year in the United States


This is the most forceful anti-tobacco action taken since the Surgeon General’s warning became mandatory on cigarette packages in 1965. The question is will these actually make an impact in decreasing the number of current smokers and deterring new smokers from starting? Will the new labels really help long-time smokers to quit after all these years? The FDA says ‘yes!’ They estimate that the new required labeling will decrease the number of smokers by 213,000 in 2013, with continuing reductions through 2031

i. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) international study found that about 25 to 50% of smokers report that the images are more likely to make them quit.

“With these warnings, every person who picks up a pack of cigarettes is going to know exactly what risk they’re taking.” Says Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary. The new labels will hopefully kick start a decrease in the number of current smokers. Unfortunately, the number of current smokers has remained stagnant since 2003 despite anti-smoking laws and increased taxes on tobacco.

Some health specialists say that the graphic labels will only be a temporary fix to reduce the number of smokers. Further, they argue that individuals who are continually exposed to these warnings may become desensitized to the powerful messages about the dangers of smoking. Jonathan Whiteson, Director of the Cardiac and Pulmonary Wellness and Rehabilitation Program at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, says, “We become immune to the negative warnings over time.”

Will these new label requirements convince the public of the harms of smoking? Will there be a reduction in the number of tobacco-related deaths? And whom will they target most effectively? Further research and time will illustrate the effects of this new legislation.

The Cancer Support Community believes that people who are educated about the risks of cancer are empowered to make healthier decisions. We fully support the FDA’s decision to employ more forceful anti-tobacco warnings and hope that people who smoke will feel empowered by knowledge and inspired to make healthy life choices.

To read more about this new legislation click here:

iMSNBC News Services. “From bad teeth to a corpse: New cigarette labels revealed.” 06 June 2011.

iiStrauss, Gary. “Graphic cigarette labels, will they work?” USA Today. 21 June 2011.



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