Cigarette Warnings: Is the U.S. Behind the Times?

“Smoking is dangerous and addictive. We support clear and consistent health warnings on our packaging and recognise the important role they play in tobacco control policy.” — statement issued by the Philip Morris company to the BBC

Around the world, a push is being made to label boxes of cigarettes with graphic, sometimes disturbing warnings about the health consequences of smoking.  These picture warnings began being used in Canada in 2000. Five years later, only five countries were using picture warnings. This year, there are 70 countries. By next year, that number will grow to at least 95.

Australia leads the pack of countries with intense graphic warnings. In 2012, restrictions were imposed on package design as follows: companies had 25% of the front of the pack and 10% of the pack to identify their brand with plain grey letters. The rest of the packaging is covered in frighteningly detailed health warnings.

Australian cigarette warnings

BBC News

Still, the United States holds out on adopting these warnings. Why? In 2009, a federal act was put into place that required picture warnings on cigarette packaging, but tobacco companies resisted, and a judge ruled that the nine images violated the manufacturers’ constitutional right to free speech. So the U.S. still has the same text warning on the side of the packaging that has been on cigarettes since 1984: 30 years of the same warnings, over and over.

But is anyone paying attention to those printed warnings in plain text? Do you think the graphic warnings on cigarette packages would inspire people to stop smoking? Would smoking cigarettes suddenly become a lot less ‘cool’ to teens if there was a festering tumor or a cancerous dying man plastered on the front of the package?

More importantly, if you smoke, would YOU quit if you had to carry around such a forceful warning? Share your comments with us; we’d love to hear what you think.

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