Dead Body, Diseased Lungs to Appear on U.S. Cigarette Packs

New Warning Labels on U.S. Cigarette Packs
One of the nine graphic warnings tobacco companies must start placing on cigarette packs sold in the U.S. next year. Source: FDA

Images of a corpse and cancerous lungs are among nine graphic warnings that tobacco companies led by Altria Group Inc. must start placing on cigarette packs sold in the U.S. next year.

The labels, required under a two-year-old tobacco law to convey the health effects of smoking, also include pictures of rotting teeth and a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his neck, the Food and Drug Administration said today on its website. The FDA selected the nine images from 36 it proposed last year.

Cigarettes can’t be sold in the U.S. after Oct. 22, 2012, without the warnings, part of the biggest tobacco marketing rules change in a quarter century. Each pack must carry one of the nine labels that pair images with text such as “Smoking can kill you.” The graphics must cover the top half of the front and back of cigarette packages and 20 percent of print ads.

The labels “will be the toughest and most effective tobacco health warnings in this country’s history,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today at a White House briefing. “With these warnings, every person who picks up a pack of cigarettes is going to know exactly what risk they’re taking.”

U.S. cigarette packs and ads now carry one of four text warnings under a federal law enacted in 1984. The messages include “Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide” and “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.” They aren’t paired with images.

‘Deadly and Unglamorous’

The 27-year-old warnings “go unnoticed on the side of cigarette packs and fail to effectively communicate the serious health risks of smoking,” Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, said in an e-mail. The labels unveiled today “will tell the truth about how deadly and unglamorous cigarette smoking truly is.”

Canada, the U.K. and Brazil are among more than 40 countries that require graphic cigarette warnings. One in five Canadian smokers reported smoking less as a result of the graphic labels in a 2004 study of more than 600 people.

More than 20 percent of adults in the U.S., or 46 million people, smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Obama administration is pushing to reduce the U.S. smoking rate to 12 percent in a decade.

Fewer Smokers

The FDA estimates the labels will reduce the number of U.S. smokers by 213,000 people in 2013, Lawrence Deyton, director of the agency’s Center for Tobacco Products, said today at a news conference at the White House.

Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing about 443,000 people a year, according to the Atlanta-based CDC.

Altria’s Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co., the three biggest U.S. cigarette makers, had opposed the graphic-label rules, saying they would infringe on companies’ free-speech rights.

“The Supreme Court has specifically warned governments against attempting to compel private speech in an effort to control adults’ use of a legal product,” Altria, of Richmond, Virginia, said in comments filed with the FDA in January.

Altria is reviewing today’s final rule, Steve Callahan, a company spokesman, said today in an e-mail. David Howard, a spokesman for Reynolds, and Robert Bannon, a Lorillard spokesman, declined to comment on the rule.

Altria declined 1 cent to $27.31 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Reynolds lost 8 cents to $38.17, and Lorillard gained 79 cents to $111.89.

Court Challenge

Reynolds, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Greensboro, North Carolina-based Lorillard are among the companies seeking to overturn the law’s graphic warning-label requirements.

It’s unconstitutional for the government to “confiscate the top 50 percent of both sides of cigarette packaging and mandate shocking color graphics,” Reynolds and Lorillard said in September in a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.

Altria, which isn’t part of the lawsuit, broke with its rivals to back the 2009 tobacco law as a way to standardize manufacturing rules and spur development of less-harmful tobacco products.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE