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FDA: Smoking makes you ugly (and it’ll kill ya, too!)

Soon, smokers will be seeing more than a fine-print warning by the Surgeon General when they pick up their favorite pack. The FDA and the Department of Health and Human services unveiled a new anti-smoking plan today that would plaster cigarette packages with pictures of diseased teeth and gums, corpses, a man with a tracheotomy smoking a cigarette and a cartoon of a mother blowing smoke in her baby’s face.

The proposed packaging change is part of the law that Obama signed in back in 2009 that moved regulation of tobacco to the FDAs authority, and allowed for the outlawing of flavored and “clove” cigarettes while allowing for the mentholated smokes produced and marketed by big tobacco companies.

Right now there are 36 labels in all that are being considered, all of which contain bright colorful images that will take up the entire top half of the package. All of them will also contain messages like “smoking will kill you” and other such cheery life-affirming mantras. Additionally, 20 percent of advertising must be a warning label. The labels will be finalized in June, and then manufacturers will have a little over a year to faze them into effect.

More than 30 countries have imposes similar policies to this one in recent years. Canada did in 2000, and has since seen their smoking rates fall from 26% to 20%.

The decisions comes on the heels of a study completed last year that found that when faced with printed reminders that smoking kills people, smokers developed coping mechanisms to allow them to continue their habit. The study also found that is was much more effective to just tell people that it makes them ugly:

Comparatively, if smokers are shown warnings suggesting the habit could make them unattractive, they are more likely to give up. Teenagers who took up the habit to impress or fit in with their peers were more likely to be influenced by warnings about their appearance, the study found

“In general, when smokers are faced with death-related anti-smoking messages on cigarette packs, they produce active coping attempts as reflected in their willingness to continue the risky smoking behaviour,” the study said.

“To succeed with anti-smoking messages on cigarette packs one has to take into account that considering their death may make people smoke.”

Participants in the study filled out a questionnaire about their smoking, and were then showed warning labels that either focused on the health effects of smoking or how attractive it would make them. After fifteen minutes, they were asked more questions, about their smoking and if they intended to quit.

The group that had read the health-related warnings was either unaffected by the warnings or held more positive attitudes about smoking afterward. The vanity-based warnings, however, were actually found to be more useful among people who based their self-esteem on smoking.

Also, on a related note, cigarettes in Britain are likely soon to be sold in plain brown packaging, to negate the apparent bug-zapper-like shiny packaging’s effects on kids. Two years ago they became the first country in the European Union to include big scary pictures on their packaging like the ones the FDA is proposing.

  1. Jeremy says:

    sounds like a great idea to me. but maybe use more graphic images if possible.

  2. Tim! says:

    I love this plan, except the FDA’s proposed images are way too tame. When I was in Thailand, I nearly collected the whole set of grotesqueries that come on the dust-flavored Marlboros sold there.

  3. Betz says:


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