The move would mark the first revisal since the Surgeon General’s warning was introduced to cigarette packaging and advertisements in 1984.
“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,” Ned Sharpless, acting FDA commissioner, said in a news release on Thursday.
Under the proposal, the image would occupy 50 percent of the area on the front and rear panels of the packages, and at least 20 percent of the area at the top of cigarette advertisements. The health agency said current warnings have become “virtually invisible to both smokers and nonsmokers – not attracting much attention and not leaving a very memorable impression of the risks of smoking.”
“While most people assume the public knows all they need to understand about the harms of cigarette smoking, there’s a surprising number of lesser-known risks that both youth and adult smokers and nonsmokers may simply not be aware of, such as bladder cancer, diabetes and conditions that can cause blindness,” Sharpless continued.
The new warnings would include language highlighting the many dangers of smoking, including harm to children, fatal lung disease in nonsmokers, head and neck cancers, stunted fetal growth, heart disease, stroke, COPD, reduced blood flow and erectile dysfunction, possible limb amputation, type 2 diabetes and cataracts with the potential for blindness. Each warning would be accompanied by a color image tailored to the health hazard mentioned.
Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure account for 480,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, the FDA reported, totaling more fatalities than alcohol, HIV, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. Despite the statistics, an estimated 34.4 million U.S. adults and an additional 1.4 million U.S. youths are active smokers.
The FDA said a consumer research study involving the new warnings not only appeared new to the participants but also gave them new information about health risks associated with smoking when compared to the current Surgeon General’s warning.
“Cigarette packages and advertisements can serve as an important channel for communicating health information to broad audiences that include both smokers and nonsmokers,” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in the news release. “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.”
The FDA said the proposed rule will be open for public comments through Oct. 15.