Tobacco tactics: too graphic?

The images grab your attention, to say the least: A toe tag dangling from a body in the morgue. A man lying in a coffin. A smoker exhaling through a tracheotomy in his neck.

Under a new campaign, announced Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, cigarette packs will carry large, bold warning labels about the health consequences of smoking. The new labels will be accompanied by blunt warnings. “Cigarettes are addictive.” “Smoking can kill you.”

Federal officials hope the warnings will motivate smokers to quit – or to avoid starting the tobacco habit in the first place. Despite more than four decades of anti-smoking efforts, it’s estimated that about 20 percent of American adults and 19 percent of teens are smokers. Tobacco use remains one of the leading preventable causes of death in the United States, taking 440,000 lives annually. What has the health and prevention community especially concerned is how the decline in tobacco use has plateaued in recent years.

Will new, graphic warnings about the health consequences of smoking bring new energy to the national tobacco prevention campaign? Many observers and experts say yes.

The New York Times talked to Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who called the proposed new warning labels “the most important change in cigarette health warnings in the history of the United States.”

From the Times:

Studies suggest that pictorial warnings are better at getting the attention of adolescents than ones that feature only text; make smokers more likely to skip the cigarette they had planned to smoke and more likely to quit; and make adolescents less likely to start smoking.

It’s also thought that the more brutal and blunt the message is, the better it might be able to motivate people of all ages to avoid tobacco.

Not everyone agrees. Some people are questioning whether the proposed labels will prove to be effective, while others think the FDA has gone too far. More than 600 people have weighed in, pro and con, in the New York Times online discussion. One person declared, “Anything less is a cop-out.” But someone else felt scare tactics don’t work in the long run: “The shock factor wears off quickly and smokers become desensitized to the images.”

The proposed new labels aren’t a done deal yet. The public has until Jan. 11 to submit official comments to the FDA. Final regulations won’t be issued until next June.

In the meantime, what do readers think? Do you think the graphic warnings will be effective? Or do you think they’re going overboard? Post your thoughts in the comment section below.

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