On Thursday, The Food and Drug Administration announced a proposal to establish a rule under which the tobacco companies will be required to include a graphic statutory warning on cigarette packs and tobacco ads to promote "greater public understanding of the negative health consequences of smoking".
Despite the statistics, an estimated 34.4 million USA adults and an additional 1.4 million US youths are active smokers. When finalized, this rule would fulfill a requirement in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act and complement additional important work the FDA is undertaking to advance the health of America's families. The tobacco industry can not be allowed to further delay these necessary warnings that show and tell the truth about the deadly consequences of smoking.
The rest of the world's not waiting. They would take up the top 50 percent of the front and back panels of the packages.
This isn't the first time USA regulators have sought to force cigarette makers to display graphic anti-smoking images on their packaging.
Smokers would have a hard time overlooking the graphic images displayed on cigarette packages if federal health officials have their way.
In 2016, the FDA was then met with another legal hurdle from anti-smoking advocates, who claimed the agency hadn't moved fast enough to require the warning images.
"In fact, daily smokers potentially see warnings on cigarette packages more than 5,100 times per year, and all members of the public, including adolescents, are exposed to cigarette advertisements in print and digital media, as well as in and around stores where cigarettes are sold", he added.
The 13 proposed image warnings address various health conditions caused by smoking, which include head and neck cancer, COPD, erectile dysfunction and type 2 diabetes.
"As a cancer doctor and researcher, I am well aware of the staggering toll inflicted on the public health by tobacco products, which cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and other medical problems".
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The negative health consequences are many. It would be the most significant change to cigarette labels in more than 35 years.
Existing surgeon general warnings "have been shown to go unnoticed and be 'invisible, '" FDA said.
The new proposal follows a failed bid by the FDA in 2011 for colored graphic warnings, which was challenged in court by tobacco companies and ultimately declined in 2012.
What's more, more than 16 million Americans live with diseases caused by cigarette smoking. A final rule is expected to be issued by March 2020.
Jonathan Havens, a former FDA lawyer who worked with the agency's then newly-established Center for Tobacco Products, says the First Amendment is the primary obstacle separating the United States from other countries.
Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the U.S, even though smoking rates have been declining for decades.
The proposed rule will be open for a 60-day public comment period.
In 2011, the FDA finalized nine warning statements with color graphics that spelled out the negative health consequences of smoking. Prior to 2009, when Congress passed the Tobacco Control Act, only 18 countries required graphic warnings, showing how far behind the rest of the world the USA has fallen over the past 10 years.
"We firmly support public awareness of the harms of smoking cigarettes, but the manner in which those messages are delivered to the public can not run afoul of the First Amendment protections that apply to all speakers, including cigarette manufacturers", Neassa Hollon, a spokeswoman for the tobacco giant RJ Reynolds, told the New York Times on Thursday.