The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was mandated by Congress to implement new warning labels on cigarettes beginning in July of 2011. The FDA released a set of proposed warning labels and accompanying images which are currently on the table for consideration. The FDA will require producers of tobacco products to place these graphic photos and warnings on all packages of cigarettes.
Shortly after the proposed warning label release, a lively debate ensued. According to the Los Angeles Times,newspapers across the country began to weigh in with editorials from one end of the debate to the other. The Chicago Tribune claims the government is playing “nanny.” The Sacramento Bee asserts California’s strict laws regarding tobacco advertisements have already reduced smoking dramatically.
As a parent of a teenager and a “tween,” I am deeply concerned about tobacco use by the very young. Although my wife and I don’t smoke and try to set a good example for our children, we understand cigarette companies are avidly looking for future customers and do indeed focus their advertising efforts on the very young. The American Lung Association reports retail marketing of cigarettes does in fact increase the likelihood teens will pick up the habit.
Underage Smoking Epidemic
Despite laws banning the sale of cigarettes to juveniles under the age of 18, many kids start smoking when they are still in high school. Livestrong.com reports as many as 300,000 children start smoking every year, and 30 percent of them will die of smoking-related causes.
Part of the trend involves parental example and influence. I am a firm believer in teaching by example. If I were a smoker, I wouldn’t be surprised if my children easily acquired the habit. My wife and I both lead non-smoking lives, so we have that fact working in our favor. However, we have justifiable concerns about how the media and movies readily portray smoking as being acceptable, relatively safe or “cool.”
Potent Messages for Teens and Children
The new warning labels and images placed on cigarettes should serve as a bracing smack of reality to the adults who willingly purchase them. Smoking compromises a human being’s overall good health and ultimately kills–plain and simple. As many as 160,000 adults die every year due to smoking-related lung cancer, according to WebMD.
Children cannot purchase cigarettes but older siblings and parents can. Perhaps seeing a deceased smoker’s body plastered on a pack of cigarettes will do very little to deter an adult already addicted to smoking, but it could cause a child or teen to sit up and take notice and ideally refrain from ever trying their first cigarette.
The truth is smoking does have unfortunate health consequences and ultimately leads to death. However, kids typically don’t get the full brunt of a long-term consequence unless they see and experience it firsthand, as with the untimely death of a beloved grandparent or other close family member who smoked.
Graphic warning labels on cigarettes will hit home in all the right ways, though it may be advisable for these anti-smoking messages to be accompanied with offering established smokers practical ways to quit.
The new graphic warning labels seem to target helping prevent teens and younger kids from picking up the habit. However, they may do very little to help long-term smokers. Perhaps that’s the next logical step for the FDA.
Opinion L.A. “Debating the FDA’s graphic cigarette warning labels”, Los Angeles Times.
Food and Drug Administration, “Proposed Cigarette Warning Labels”, FDA.gov.
American Lung Association, “Tobacco Industry Marketing”, LungUSA.org.
LiveStrong, “What Influences Teenagers to Start Smoking?”, LiveStrong.com.
WebMD, “Lung Cancer Statistics.”