Will smokers heed the warning on cigarette packaging?

Area health officials have mixed opinions on what impact graphic new warning labels on cigarette packs will have on smokers.tobacco warning

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration released nine new warning labels that include images of rotting and diseased teeth and gums and a man with a tracheotomy smoking.

The warning labels also must appear in advertisements and constitute 20 percent of an ad. Cigarette makers have until the fall of 2012 to comply.

“I’m not sure if they’re going to work or not,” said Vicki Ionno, New Philadelphia’s new health commissioner.

The FDA has done a good job of reducing smoking in the country, with the number of smokers declining from 40 percent in 1970 to less than 20 percent today. But in 2004, that decline stalled, and Ionno said the federal agency is looking for new methods to reduce smoking.

She noted that the number of smokers in Tuscarawas County is above the national average — 29.6 percent of county residents smoke, compared to 23.6 percent of Ohioans and 15 percent of Americans. She added that the county also has a higher incidence of obesity and alcohol use.

Ionno said smoking bans in Ohio have helped cut the number of smokers, as has the high cost of cigarettes. But she said it’s still not enough, as long as people are getting cancer or diseases brought on by secondhand smoke.

She said the New Philadelphia Health Department is available to help whenever it can for those who would like to stop smoking.

Dr. James Hubert, Tuscarawas County coroner and health commissioner, is hopeful that the labels might promote smoking cessation.

“They are a semishock type of notice of what can potentially happen with long-term tobacco use,” he said.

Though the images on the labels may be viewed as extremely, he noted that tobacco use is the cause of the greatest number of dollars spent on health care and a major reason for days of work lost by employers. “It affects our economy,” Hubert said.

Dr. Jennifer Ney, a pulmonologist at Trinity Hospital Twin City, said the new labels depict something that is truthful.

“The changes, while graphic, are needed and necessary to bring home the point that cigarette smoking is dangerous,” she said.

In her practice, Ney sees many smokers. In fact, at least 50 percent of her patients are smokers. “They have a false sense of security that it won’t happen to them,” she said, referring to the many health hazards associated with smoking.

She said there are no great screening tests for lung cancer. “By the time you have symptoms, the disease is pretty far advanced.”

Many smokers believe they are healthy because they don’t investigate to see if they are ill. “They’re like an ostrich with its hand in the sand,” she said. “They don’t look for the problem, so they don’t have to deal with it.”

Statistics have shown that the warnings have reduced smoking by 5 percent in other countries where they have been used. “Five percent is better than no percent,” Ney said.

By Jon Baker

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