Cigarette Packs Go Graphic as FDA Gets Tobacco Oversight

Posted by: Nanette Byrnes on June 12, 2009

Congress has just given the Food & Drug Administration oversight over the Tobacco Industry, but though one big cigarette maker, Altria, supported the move generally, new rules on warning labels on packs aren’t sitting so well.

The bill, which is expected to be signed into law quickly by President Obama, will put a new clamp on many elements of the business, from regulating health claims to empowering the FDA to require changes in ingredients if they deem them necessary.

But one of the more contentious parts of the new law may be its provision for starker warning labels. Labeling on packs was left up to the FDA to decide in earlier versions of the bill, but in the final version changes were mandated. David Sylvia, a spokesman for Altria’s Philip Morris USA business argues labeling would be better handled by a regulator than through legislation. A regulator could study the issue scientifically and render a decision on that basis, says Sylvia. As things stand “we don’t know if it’s more effective communication or not,” he says.

Cigarette makers concern over packaging makes sense. As restrictions on conventional tobacco marketing have increased, the packs have become more and more valuable unfettered advertising space. Tobacco companies increasingly rely on packaging as one of their last best methods of image building. Packs are both a way to create a presence in stores and to communicate what the brand is about.

According to a study of tobacco company documents made public through litigation, the industry’s own market testing results “indicate that such imagery is so strong as to influence smoker’s taste ratings of the same cigarettes when packaged differently.” The study found tobacco companies carried out systematic and extensive research to ensure that cigarette packaging appeals to selected target groups, including young adults and women.

The bill that passed today directly requires bold health warnings on both sides of a pack of cigarettes, a move countries like Brazil, Australia, Thailand and Singapore pioneered. In those countries stomach-turning photos of premature babies, oral cancers, tracheotomies and children on ventilators due to second hand smoke, cover the side of a pack of smokes.

Initially text-only, the US version would cover the top half of the packs, front and back. But within two years, the FDA would have to come up with similar “regulations that require color graphic labels depicting the negative health consequences of smoking.”

In England there has been discussion in government of something more radical, and even more distressing to the industry: moving to all-white packages. The hope: to remove the mystique brands like Marlboro have built in part through their distinctive look. The industry including Philip Morris International, Marlboro’s maker outside the US, is working hard to fight that prospect.

Though Philip Morris says the warnings are not scientifically proven effective, in May the World Health Organization urged all governments to use pictorial warnings “showing the sickness and suffering caused by tobacco use.” The WHO cited studies of the effect of such warnings in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand that found these images motivate users to quit, and prevent others from taking up the habit.

Reader Comments

BCR

June 12, 2009 2:56 PM

The FDA can't get done what's on their plate now. Breakthrough drugs wait years for approval because they can't get approved. Diet aids and vitamin supplements that KILL people don't have to be approved, but really should be. BUT we need to have the FDA regulate cigarettes, so we can make sure our kids don't smoke, and understand that smoking is bad for you... And you wonder why the rest of the world thinks Americans are a bunch of idiots.

ThePrairiePrankster

June 12, 2009 3:30 PM

"Tobacco companies increasingly rely on packaging as one of their last best methods of image building. Packs are both a way to create a presence in stores and to communicate what the brand is about."

What's so hard to communicate about smelling bad and dying from respiratory diseases?

German

June 12, 2009 4:22 PM

So this is what the FDA spends its time doing. I'm a teen, I know the risks of smoking and I still do it. Not socially but alone. Why? Because I like it, I love the smell of the burning tobacco as it leaves its small packed confinement in a puff of smoke. No warnings are gonna stop me, no pictures are gonna stop me. I know the risks and I choose to take it.

Wendy

June 12, 2009 4:51 PM

I understand the regulations for health reasons.take out some of the evil chemicals in my tobacco. HOWEVER, I do not agree with banning flavored tobacco. I thought this was free country? Not feeling like it! I can't get my cherry cigs or my sheesha? Hookah Tobacco involved in this two?

Zach

June 12, 2009 4:54 PM

German...you're like people that don't wear helmets on motorcycles. My health insurance premiums cost more because dolts like you raise illness rates.

Drew

June 12, 2009 5:16 PM

While there is no doubt that smoking is harmful to the health, to what extent is it the government's job to control citizen's decisions.

I am not a smoker, but I don't believe it's fair for a government to slowly destroy a business through practices that make the company operate inefficiently.

Ralph

June 12, 2009 5:19 PM

This is what Democrats focus on - social control. Expect the economy to continue to get worse, and worse, and worse over the next three years. Here's a better approach: legalize *everything* and tax the hell out of it. Are you tired of spending 50% of your income on taxes? Tired of vague, incompetent attempts at prohibition fueling and funding organized crime? Our government is a complete and total failure. Let's start to shut as much of it down as possible.

Maddy

June 12, 2009 7:16 PM

How is the government controlling citizen's decisions merely by changing packaging? If that is the case, why is it OK for corporations to control your decisions, but not the government?

Rich

June 12, 2009 7:57 PM

...all this work to curb the slow introduction of emphezema to "kids", but not a peep about curbing the design appeal of the alcoholic beverages that kill millions of teens a year. The FDA is making a killing off of taking advantage of the current public opinion of smoking.

Alissa

June 12, 2009 8:29 PM

Where have you been in the past few years.....

Manitoba Canada has had the graphic cigarette packaging for the past 5 years or so.

I am NOT a smoker, but most of my friends are, and these graphic pictures are not doing anything for them to stop smoking.

Jac

June 12, 2009 9:26 PM

Right Ralph, because the business world did so poorly under Clinton right? Oh, wait, no...those were the biggest boom years this country has ever known...I guess he must have been a republican then huh?

And then Bush completely broke the economy. I forget, was he a democrat?

Strategery

June 12, 2009 9:57 PM

Colorful pictures? Sounds like something that would appeal to kids; the group that the government wants to protect the most. I bet most smokers fall into two groups: the ones that can't quit or the ones that don't care. They know the risks. Additional warnings or pictures will not stop them, but it might discourage new smokers. How about this: you have to have a license to buy smokes. To get the license, you only have to do two things: 1. Prove you are 18 or older. 2. Sign a waver declining healthcare for smoking related illnesses, effective for a lifetime (especially if it is paid for by the government). After that, puff away.

Larry

June 12, 2009 10:15 PM

I hope one day we could ban smoking. I love to idea of clean teeth, clean hands, great smelling cars, clean cloths, clean smelling home. I think that we should place smokers in jail of they continue to smoke with the ban. I love it!

reminder

June 12, 2009 11:01 PM

Obama is a smoker.

Josh

June 13, 2009 2:41 AM

Well, the FDA's been in bed with the pharmaceutical industry for so long, approving and/or failing to recall so many horrifying drugs, it's really no surprise they're getting in on this. Big Pharma's made a killing by selling dangerous, sometimes suicide- and psychosis-inducing "alternatives" to smokers in the name of...improving their health.
German's comment raises another interesting point: By making the act of smoking more and more illicit, they're actually just encouraging more kids to start anyway.
Well, there you have government and pharma working together. Good times rolling since Bayer started making zyklon gas for the NSDAP.

Mark

June 13, 2009 8:37 AM

Cigarette smoking is a huge public health problem that costs U.S. taxpayers dearly. It's time to make smokers pay a premium for their future health care costs.

Debt

June 13, 2009 2:20 PM

And then people wonder why the U.S. and states are in debt. Do people realize how much tax revenue cigarettes bring in. I'm a smoker because I honestly don't care. People want to ban cigarettes, go ahead and take away another freedom that makes us America. Have fun paying more taxes when less and less people smoke.

Too Funny

June 14, 2009 4:57 PM

From The NYTimes article...
“This bill is proof positive that the tobacco industry is no longer running the show on Capitol Hill and that the health of Americans is a top priority for our elected officials,” the group’s chief executive, John R. Seffrin, said in a statement.

I find it funny, because there are plenty of other industries are influencing the government, the Movie/Music industries, Tele/Cable Industries etc just to name a few.

My take as a smoker on this bill is: It does not effect me, if they reduce the toxic ingredients, that's a good thing. Lower nicotine levels? Good thing as well.

Now lets pass some bills on Alcohol too while were at it. I'm not saying ban it, because we know what would happen, but put the same limitations on A-B and other brewers, about advertising and sponsorships.

Nanette Byrnes

June 15, 2009 11:39 AM

This is Nanette Byrnes, author of the post. Thanks for the diversity of comments.
I'm intrigued by the point several have made about alcohol as a parallel legal product with societal costs. The same argument has been made elsewhere about soda and sugary drinks and diabetes. Even fast food.
These are some of the iconic American brands: Marlboro, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, McDonald's. Yet the government's increasingly encouraged to reign them in. Why has the public turned on them? Did those companies lose their marketing touch, or is this inevitable result of the freer flow of information in the digital age? What do you think?

Josh

June 18, 2009 6:30 PM

Nanette,
I think we live in a neo-progressive age where strains of paternalism and puritanism are once again masquerading as concerns over public health. If a specious argument can be made that any human activity might potentially harm someone, there's a special interest group collecting money and signatures to have it outlawed. Given the complete destruction of the Constitution as a meaningful document over the past century, there doesn't seem to be a framework in this country any longer to retain individual rights in the face of majority opinions crafted by the various lobbying groups.

Smoker's rights are just one in a chain of freedoms lost in the name of public health, going all the way back to the Lochner dissent, right? I'm in Santa Monica, where smoking outside is now an infraction...along with not wearing a seatbelt or helmet...all things that hurt no one else. Oddly, smoking pot is no longer illegal here. All that shows is that our government, and the courts in particular, have failed to uphold broad principles of liberty and instead have shown themselves willing to enact and support any infringement on individual rights by the state which appears to have popular support -- the more the merrier, as far as they're concerned.
One day, the pendulum may swing the other way, and people will have had enough of this hooey. But the degree of social engineering that's gone into classing smokers as dirty, sub-human, dangerous sociopaths over the past two decades has worked: It's shaped public opinion to the extent that a majority of Americans are now comfortable and happy in feeling superior to 15% of the population who -- as is their right as adults in a free society -- still smoke.

Non-smokers will frankly not be concerned with preserving smoker's rights. It's a case of divide and conquer. But the day will come when their Krispy Kremes or their Cokes are regulated, taxed and frowned upon... and the question is whether the "majority opinion" that longevity is the only measure of happiness will continue at that point to lead us into a social- and bio-engineered "Gattica" type authoritarian society, or whether more free-thinking elements will reassert themselves as the threat comes into their own back yard.

Michael

June 25, 2009 12:09 AM

Its people like German that makes sure that I will always have a job! I would rather not have to perform biopsies on people who have smoked all their lives and now have lung masses. You will be one of those people who will be sitting on a table getting a bronchscope shoved down your throat getting a biopsy done on your lungs. Its not a pleasant thing to perform nor for the patient. You will sit there while a pathologist sends a rope like punch down the scope to take a piece of your lung tissue out to see if you have cancer...You will cough and have to swallow blood...Its something that doesn't have to happen you can choose not to do it... Your choices are not good no matter what type of cancer you may have... Either Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Adenocarcinoma, Small Cell Carcinoma,or Carcinoid Tumor. Right now no cancer treatment really works with Lung Cancers and you expected life Expectancy is about 8 to 9 months if you are lucky... So if you think your cool enough to sit there and swallow a scope for a biopsy then go ahead your chances are that you will get lung cancer. Its not a pretty site to see people gasping for air all the way up til they die! .... I hope you have good insurance your Chemotherapy and Biopsies are going to cost you and not including the pain and suffering it cost your family... You might want to think about other people besides yourself....

Andrea

June 25, 2009 2:57 AM

As a smoker, I would love to see the FDA make cigarettes less harmful and less addictive. As for new warning labels, I don't see the point. If someone doesn't know the dangers of smoking, they haven't paid attention.

Also, parents need to take a more active role in educating their kids and stop passing the buck to teachers, law-makers and the FDA. Explain to your kids how it is harmful and WHY.

I hope that the FDA is able to do something. It would make it a lot easier for people to quit if cigarettes were less addictive, and for those that simply don't want to quit, I pray they can make them less harmful.

Andrea

June 25, 2009 3:07 AM

As a smoker, I would love to see the FDA make cigarettes less harmful and less addictive. As for new warning labels, I don't see the point. If someone doesn't know the dangers of smoking, they haven't paid attention.

Also, parents need to take a more active role in educating their kids and stop passing the buck to teachers, law-makers and the FDA. Explain to your kids how it is harmful and WHY.

Mark Gradwell

June 26, 2009 12:17 PM

I'm from the U.K. and smoke. On the back of the pack of some packs of my favourite brand of cigars is a gory picture of a guy with a huge red scabby growth on his neck. Looks like somebody's thrown a big double thick slice of burnt but still edible pizza at him and it's stuck. With the slogan Smoking can cause a slow and painful death.

Yum!

Ace

July 1, 2009 6:32 PM

I believe that the government should not have the right to tell people how to live. I'm not a smoker, but I am a believer in "right to choose." I know a lot of people are so happy about this new bill, but it's a step in a direction that is not good. The government is already telling people how to run their business, raise their kids and how much money you can make. This country was founded for freedom not to be controlled. I have a bad feeling that these recent decisions that are coming from the government are going to back fire. Do any of you know what's going on in Korea right now? Read up on the issue. Things like what's happening in Korea are going on and the government is worried about making more money from tobacco.

Brent

July 2, 2009 2:47 AM

Smokers have rights, and I don't see why there should be so much animosity toward an adult minding his or her own personal business.

Furthermore, even if there is wrongdoing, why should anyone hold smokers accountable for something that, statistically speaking, they got lured into as children while being introduced to alcohol. Most new smokers are like German: children who make a huge mistake while on the brink of adulthood. It's not a point in life where most people should be judged with a fine-tooth comb. As these kids become middle age, the majority of them are regretful at having already lost some quality of life that others still enjoy.

Mature adults who choose to start smoking could be better held accountable for wrongdoing, if there is any to be had, except they are extremely rare.

The people I find in moral question are those who are selling a product that causes severe health problems, and who decide to specifically target children and young adults as their market. If I sold a product and discovered that it killed people, I would not be able to live with myself if I chose to make a living by duping kids into getting hooked on my product.

Yes, tobacco is a large industry and care should be taken out of fairness to those whose livelihood depend on it. But yes, that industry deserves to be under FDA regulation and should be gradually phased out of existence.

Pat 16

July 2, 2009 12:04 PM

Im 16 and have been smoking for a few years. Its my body, Ill do what I want with it. Dont tell me its as easy as not smoking. Im in rehab right now for blubing crack. I get out in 3 days and am ganna start smoking again. not because I want to, but because the Halfway house im being transferd to is a smoking facility and even if I didnt go their I would still smoke.

Because I smoked crack I can tell you that quiting smoking is HARDER than staying clean off crack.

So it costs you a few hundred a year to be a non smoker... put yourself in my shose of spending 10 bucks a day and taking cig buts out of ashtrays and smoking them.

Stop complaining its my choice my body.

P.S Dont nock it tell ya try it...

Peace and love
-Pat ^^

b&h

July 14, 2009 3:53 PM

i bought a carton of cigarettes and they did not burn properly.

1. they practically go out while i'm actively smoking the cigarette.

2. when you tap the ashes off, almost nothing is left burning at the tip so the cigarette almost goes out & it is hard to get it burning again.

3. while i'm working on the computer etc my cigarette sometimes burns a bit off, but now it practically goes out after about a minute, so you have to relight. hence, i am smoking more of the cigarette than before.

funny thing is--i go to the store thinking they're defective only to find out that the FDA has put something called fc5??? in the cigarettes. this is to make a cigarette go out if it's left unattended to prevent fires. i rarely hear about fires started from cigarettes anymore. in fact i've read about tests that show chances are a cigarette will not start a fire.

I THOUGHT THE FDA WAS TRYING TO REDUCE NICOTINE, TAR AND CHEMICALS IN CIGARETTES!!! how harmful is THIS additive??

Rare Wasp

August 2, 2009 6:59 PM

Watch a an snl video called "the last smoker" on youtube, it portrays your views in an interesting light, Larry. Anyhow you can volunteer for the military, drink, blow your brains out or eat fatty foods. Life is dangerous. Smokers on average lose ten years of your life, but its their choice. Cowboys smoked, the Marlboro man SMOKED, AND GOT CANCER FROM IT. The government is fast becoming the "Big Brother" of George Orwell's 1984. Some facts about nicotine:
1) It slows or halts the process of Alzheimer's in some people.
2)Memory, in rats and humans, improved by roughly 15%.
3) It is highly addictive.
4) Some people, myself included, really enjoy them.

By your reasoning, Larry, why not ban alternative lifestyles like homosexuality? Gay men are much more likely to contract HIV than hetero men.Smoking is an alternative lifestyle too.

StallionHorse

September 5, 2009 7:33 PM

Hay Larry,

Jail for smokers who continue to smoke after the ban? I think we should throw idiots who can't write their own language in jail. I mean, come on - it's a matter of national security. Right now, hundreds of millions of Chinese people read and write English, a second language, better than you can read and write (and probably speak) the language you've spoken since birth! Exhibit number 1: "I love the idea to clean teeth". Err...wha? "...Clean cloths" - while technically correct, I think you meant clean *clothes* - things you wear and not what you buff a car with. Oh, and we should 'place' smokers in jail. You make it sound so...gentle. You don't throw them in, you don't send them to jail, you don't incarcerate them, you're not depriving them of their freedom, but you're "placing" them in jail. LMAO...

I don't know what's worse: your idiotic ideas or the way you convey them. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Derr...uhh...umm...ruh-roh!

Maxine

November 25, 2009 7:41 PM

"b&h
July 14, 2009 03:53 PM
i bought a carton of cigarettes and they did not burn properly.

1. they practically go out while i'm actively smoking the cigarette.

2. when you tap the ashes off, almost nothing is left burning at the tip so the cigarette almost goes out & it is hard to get it burning again.

3. while i'm working on the computer etc my cigarette sometimes burns a bit off, but now it practically goes out after about a minute, so you have to relight. hence, i am smoking more of the cigarette than before.

funny thing is--i go to the store thinking they're defective only to find out that the FDA has put something called fc5??? in the cigarettes. this is to make a cigarette go out if it's left unattended to prevent fires. i rarely hear about fires started from cigarettes anymore. in fact i've read about tests that show chances are a cigarette will not start a fire.

I THOUGHT THE FDA WAS TRYING TO REDUCE NICOTINE, TAR AND CHEMICALS IN CIGARETTES!!! how harmful is THIS additive??"
I bet I know what brand you smoke. My last 2 cartons were exactly as you describe. Thanks for that info. Have they done that to all brands?
Not satisfying at all.
I bet they don't mess with Oboma's smokes.

Maxine

November 25, 2009 7:41 PM

"b&h
July 14, 2009 03:53 PM
i bought a carton of cigarettes and they did not burn properly.

1. they practically go out while i'm actively smoking the cigarette.

2. when you tap the ashes off, almost nothing is left burning at the tip so the cigarette almost goes out & it is hard to get it burning again.

3. while i'm working on the computer etc my cigarette sometimes burns a bit off, but now it practically goes out after about a minute, so you have to relight. hence, i am smoking more of the cigarette than before.

funny thing is--i go to the store thinking they're defective only to find out that the FDA has put something called fc5??? in the cigarettes. this is to make a cigarette go out if it's left unattended to prevent fires. i rarely hear about fires started from cigarettes anymore. in fact i've read about tests that show chances are a cigarette will not start a fire.

I THOUGHT THE FDA WAS TRYING TO REDUCE NICOTINE, TAR AND CHEMICALS IN CIGARETTES!!! how harmful is THIS additive??"
I bet I know what brand you smoke. My last 2 cartons were exactly as you describe. Thanks for that info. Have they done that to all brands?
Not satisfying at all.
I bet they don't mess with Oboma's smokes.

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