Graphic labels tested in surveys for the Food and Drug Administration didn’t have a strong effect on whether smokers planned to quit or non-smokers intended to start, the study distributed today found. One exception was an image of a male corpse with a stapled chest that appeared to boost adult smokers’ intentions to quit.
Cigarette makers led by Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. must put images on packages starting in 2012 under a law passed last year giving the FDA unprecedented regulatory power. The FDA proposed last month that each cigarette package carry one of nine images the agency will select from among 36 test graphics, including photos of dead bodies, rotting teeth and cancerous lungs.
“The graphic cigarette warning labels did not elicit strong responses in terms of intentions related to cessation or initiation,” according to the report. “One possibility is that the observation period is too short to see any change in these types of outcomes.”
More than 20 percent of U.S. adults, or 46 million people, smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing about 443,000 people a year, according to the CDC.
The new labeling would cover 50 percent of the front and back of cigarette packages and 20 percent of print ads. The FDA is reviewing the “substantial amount of data” in today’s report, said Jeffrey Ventura, an agency spokesman.
“FDA will not only consider the results of this experimental study to select a set of nine final graphic health warnings, but also the public comments it receives on the proposed rule published on Nov. 12, 2010, and relevant scientific literature,” Ventura said in an e-mail. The agency plans to accept comments until Jan. 11.
The study, conducted in October, consisted of an initial survey and a follow-up taking 10 minutes each, administered about a week apart. The adult, young adult and youth study samples each included more than 4,500 people.
Canada, the U.K. and Brazil are among 38 countries that require graphic cigarette warnings, according to data compiled by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington. One in five Canadian smokers reported reducing intake as a result of the labels, according to a 2004 study of more than 600 people.
U.S. cigarette packs and ads now carry one of four warnings under a federal law enacted in 1984. The messages include “Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide” and “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.” The warning labels don’t include images.
By Molly Peterson