Cigarette warning labels could get 'most significant' overhaul in 35 years

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday issued a proposed rule to require new health warnings on cigarette packages and advertisements, which the agency is calling the most “significant change” to labels in 35 years.

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The 13 new warnings would feature “photo-realistic” color images of lesser-known health risks associated with smoking, such as diabetes, bladder cancer and erectile dysfunction. They would cover half of the front and backs of packages and at least 20 percent of ads.

“While most people assume the public knows all they need to understand about the harms of cigarette smoking, there’s a surprising number of lesser-known risks that both youth and adult smokers and nonsmokers may simply not be aware of, such as bladder cancer, diabetes and conditions that can cause blindness,” Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a statement.

Health warnings first appeared on cigarette packages in 1966, and were updated to include the Surgeon General’s warnings in 1984.

Research shows, however, that those warnings have become essentially “invisible” to smokers and nonsmokers alike – due to their unchanged content, small size and location, according to the FDA.

Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. – about 34.3 million adults and 1.4 million youth currently smoke, according to the government.

The proposed rule will be open for a 60-day public comment period. A final rule is expected to be issued by March 2020.