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FDA Rolls Out New Graphic Warnings For Cigarette Packages And Tobacco Ads


The Food and Drug Administration today rolled out graphic new warnings for cigarette packages and tobacco ads. The ads are required under a decade-old law, but the tobacco industry has managed so far to keep them off their products. NPR science correspondent Richard Harris reports.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Graphic warning labels on tobacco products are common around the world. When the FDA first proposed its version of these labels in 2011, tobacco companies sued, saying that they were scare tactics. This time around, acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless says the 13 warnings hew close to the factual dangers of smoking.

NED SHARPLESS: While most people assume in this day and age that the harms of cigarette smoking are pretty well understood by the public, this is not true.

HARRIS: Sure, it's common knowledge that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease. But the new warnings highlight less-well-known links, including to bladder cancer, erectile dysfunction, some forms of blindness and diabetes. The warnings are the first update in 35 years and would replace the standard surgeon general's warnings, Sharpless says.

SHARPLESS: Research shows that these warnings have become virtually invisible to both smokers and nonsmokers.

HARRIS: The new labels would cover half the front and back of every cigarette pack and would cover up the top 20% of cigarette ads. Some of the images are quite graphic - for example, showing an ugly chest scar after heart surgery. Erika Sward is at the American Lung Association, which sued the FDA to compel it to produce warning labels after the agency's first efforts failed.

ERIKA SWARD: These graphic warning labels are critically needed and long overdue.

HARRIS: But during the years that they have been in the making, a major new public health threat related to smoking has appeared. Many teens are now starting their nicotine addiction with e-cigarettes. Sward acknowledges the labels don't apply to those products.

SWARD: But I think it will prompt a broader discussion about the dangers of all tobacco use.

HARRIS: Advocates are bracing for more legal challenges to the labels. The earliest they could show up in stores and on billboards is the summer of 2021.

Richard Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.
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