Pictures of Rotting Lungs on Cigarettes Could Save Lives

cigarette warning labelThe FDA is planning an ambitious campaign that could save lives -- and I'm hoping that for once, public health will matter more than profits. Tobacco companies are fighting the FDA's anti-smoking campaign planned for 2012. They've taken the case to federal court hoping to kill off new graphic cigarette labels.

The new labels would show explicit images of the damage smoking can do, like decaying lungs and a person smoking through a hole in his throat, right there on the cigarette packs. Smokers will look at a vivid picture of the devastation smoking can wreak every time they light up. A similar move is planned for Canada.

They say pictures can tug at your emotions faster than words can, so will these scary images truly save lives?

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Not if cigarette companies can help it. A lawyer representing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. complains, "Never before has the government required the maker of a lawful product to tell consumers not to buy it." The new cigarette labels will read, "WARNING: Cigarettes are addictive" or "Tobacco smoke can harm your children" with "1-800-QUIT-NOW."

It's not exactly telling customers not to buy cigarettes, but "1-800-QUIT-NOW" sends a pretty unambiguous message.

Tobacco companies are also arguing that the impact of the shocking images will diminish as they become familiar, so, you know, might as well not even bother, right? But I think they doth protest too much. Looking at those pictures every time you reach for a cigarette would feel like a punch in the stomach. If I were a smoker, I think I'd start reaching for the phone to call for some help quitting.

Even if the new labels really do lose their impact over time and only work for a year, it would still be worth it if means saving thousands of people's lives.

More than 221,000 Americans will likely be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. And worldwide smoking will kill almost 6 million people, including 600,000 nonsmokers, says the World Health Organization.

At a time when we're trying to rein in government spending and lower health costs, this just makes sense. We want those 6 million people still with us next year, don't we?

Do you think graphic images on cigarettes can help people quit smoking?


Image via FDA

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