Graphic cigarette labels. Is the FDA blowing smoke?

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Writing in the Chicago Tribune, columnist Steve Chapman harshly criticizes the FDA s latest mandate requiring cigarette packs to prominently display graphic warning labels. In addition to demonstrating large government overreach, Chapman says, the new ruling will hardly deter adults or teens from smoking. In fact, drawing on information brought to his attention by ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross, Chapman questions the scientific validity of recent FDA predictions that an estimated 213,000 fewer Americans will smoke in 2013, thanks to the new warning labels.

Not so fast with those numbers, says Dr. Ross. The FDA commissioned a proprietary survey in 2010 which concluded that the lurid labels would likely have no effect upon the initiation of smoking, even among young people. He adds, In their current rule, the FDA ignored those data. This is understandable, given their mandate to implement graphic warnings as dictated by the 2009 FDA tobacco regulation law.

Even worse, comments ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, there could be an unintended downside to the new labels. There are studies that show that graphic labels actually promote smoking in certain populations," he says. "For example, there was a company that made the aptly named Death Cigarettes about twenty years ago. They were counting on rebellious, anti-medicine, and cool behaviors to lure young people to their brand. I think it worked for a while.

Yet ACSH s Cheryl Martin thinks graphic warnings should be considered just another tool to educate consumers about the dangers of smoking. A young or uneducated smoker may not know what emphysema is, but graphic images could help them understand the possible effects of their smoking habits, she muses. Just like the 'Truth anti-smoking commercials, the labels may be memorable enough that people can make their own informed decision and, hopefully, the choice to abstain from smoking.

However, ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan believes that these largely ineffective policies are diverting important resources from alternative and more reliable anti-smoking strategies. If the FDA weren t so busy with measures that aren t likely to work," she observes, "maybe they d come up with some ideas to actually reduce the deadly toll of smoking.