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Graphic New Cigarette Warning Labels

US Hoping to Decrease the Amount of New Smokers

For the first time in 20 years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is changing its warning labels on cigarette packages. The nine new images depicted are even more disturbing than the usual bold statements such as, “Smoking can kill you” and “Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease”.

Already there is mounting concern over the graphic and disturbing nature of the pictures. But isn't that the point? To scare kids out of picking up the lethal habit?

“These labels are frank, honest and powerful depictions of the health risks of smoking," says Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "These labels will encourage smokers to quit and prevent children from smoking.”

The likelihood of kids seeing the ads is not great unless a family member smokes. On the plus side, kids will learn early on of the harmful effects of cigarettes and perhaps even sway a parent or relative to quit.

The new warnings, which will cover at least half of all cigarettes sold in the US by mid-2013, will hopefully "have a significant public health impact by decreasing the number of smokers, resulting in lives saved, increased life expectancy and lower medical costs." Every year in the States alone, it is estimated that cigarette smoking is responsible for nearly 450,000 deaths, and costs the economy $200 billion in medical costs and lost productivity.

One of the images feature a man with a tracheotomy hole and a mouth filled with rotting teeth. As a result of The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, passed in 2009, the government now has the authority to regulate the marketing and labelling of tobacco products.

"What we've seen in terms of best practices globally is that you want pictures and accompanying text that elicit an emotion from the viewer," said Joanna Cohen, PhD, director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University. "It makes people react."

And when it comes to size, bigger is apparently better, "because people notice [the labels] more." A recent Centers for Disease Control study has shown that warning labels are effective in getting smokers to consider quitting.

To Dr. Richard Hurt of the Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center, pictures are a good start, but they are not enough. He suggests a hike in the price of cigarettes would be a more effective deterrent.

What do you think? How would you feel if your child saw one of the new labels? Should Canada follow suit?