Warning labels for cigarette packs take a grisly turn. Will they work?
Warning labels unveiled by the FDA would be the first change to cigarette pack warnings in 25 years. Nine graphic images were chosen using consumer surveys that involved 18,000 people.
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In order to avoid having the same thing happen to the graphic images, Hamburg says the FDA will study consumer responses, adding new images and health warnings to make sure people don’t become “inured” to the new images.Skip to next paragraph
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Antismoking advocates don’t expect the new images to significantly cut down on smoking unless Congress or the states fund more smoking-reduction efforts.
“The Lung Association has called attention to the need for increased funding for state quit lines so as people see these images in 2012, there is someone to answer the phone,” says Erika Sward, director of National Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Washington.
She says reducing smoking will help rein in health-care costs, which now come to $96 billion per year to treat smokers for such diseases as lung cancer and heart attacks. “A large burden of that is in the Medicaid population,” she says, referring to those who are too poor to afford health insurance.
The new images are the result of tobacco regulations passed by the Democratic controlled Congress in 2009 and supported by the Obama administration.
Six tobacco companies filed suit
Although the new images are supposed to go into effect by October of 2012, six tobacco companies sued the government in a federal district court in Kentucky in 2009 over the new law. Among their challenges, the companies claimed the new regulations interfered with their freedom of speech rights by forcing their names to appear on the bottom of the pack.
The court struck down a government ban on color and graphics on tobacco labels and a government ban on claims by tobacco companies implying that a tobacco product is safer because of FDA regulation and approval.
However, the court upheld the requirement for large graphic warnings on tobacco packages.
At the hearing, the companies can ask the federal appeals court for an injunction to prevent the new rules from going into effect until the court rules, says John Banzhaf, special counsel for Action on Smoking and Health and a public interest law professor at George Washington University in Washington.
The tobacco companies "could win and the new rules would not go into effect or the litigation is more likely to delay them,” he says. He says the industry may take the case all the way to the US Supreme Court if they lose.
“That would add at least another year of delay and the whole process would certainly take more than 15 months,” he says. “The courts usually take the view of not disturbing the status quo until the case is decided, in which case an injunction is quite possible.”
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