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Cigarette packs to have new graphic warning labels

June 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Cigarette packs will soon contain new graphic warning labels. They're being called the most significant change to U.S. cigarettes in 25 years.

The Food and Drug Administration released the nine new labels on Tuesday. The FDA chose the images from dozens that were submitted back in November. They include images of diseased teeth and gums, as well as a man with a tracheotomy.

"Multiple scientific studies have proven that the current warning labels are no longer effective," said Dr. Lawrence Deyton from Center for Tobacco Products.

The labels will take up the top half of cigarette packs, front and back. They must also appear in advertisements. Cigarette makers have until fall 2012 to comply.

The FDA said about 1 in 5 Americans smoke cigarettes. That's 46 million adults in the U.S., a number that has remained consistent since 2004. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 443,000 deaths a year are from tobacco-related illnesses.

"These new labels are all about shock," said ABC News medical expert Dr. Richard Besser. "Getting you to think about cigarettes in a new way."

Similar labels are already used in 30 other countries. The agency said the labels are expected to reduce the number of smokers by 213,000 in 2013.

"Everyone knows smoking is dangerous anyway," said Barbara Rosenberger of Lomita. "So why have these huge labels on the cartons?"

Others are hopeful that the labels will prevent first-time smokers from taking up the habit.

"Hopefully it will discourage first-time smokers and younger teenagers from taking up smoking," said Mark Zwickel of Manhattan Beach. "Those that already have the habit, I just don't believe it will influence them."

People who smoke a pack a day will see the labels about 7,000 times a year, according to the FDA.

In response to the new labels, cigarette companies allege that forcing them to give up so much of the box may be illegal. Phillip Morris told the FDA, "Any government requirement that compels a private entity to carry a message not of its own choosing raises constitutional concerns."

A pending federal lawsuit has been filed by Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc., parent company of America's second-largest cigarette maker, R.J. Reynolds; No. 3 cigarette maker, Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard Inc.; and others.

Mandates to introduce new graphic warning labels were part of a law passed in 2009 that, for the first time, gave the federal government authority to regulate tobacco.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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