New Tobacco Warning Labels: A Step in the Right Direction

Jun 21, 2011, 2:12 PM, Posted by


Idea Gallery is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth in which guest authors provide their perspective on issues affecting public health. Today, the Surgeon General, Regina M. Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A. writes about the new FDA cigarette health warnings.

It’s simple: Smoking kills.

Sending this message to smokers — or to those who are thinking of starting smoking — just got a lot easier. Earlier today, the federal government released nine new graphic health warnings that will appear on everything from cigarette packs to in-store tobacco displays.

Stark images and bold messaging will now graphically illustrate — on every ad and every pack of cigarettes — the painful and deadly reality of tobacco use: A diseased lung. A baby surrounded by secondhand smoke. A man who needs an oxygen mask to breathe.

Beginning September 2012, each pack of cigarettes will serve as a vivid reminder of the real public health effects of smoking.

Smoking is the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the United States, killing 443,000 people each year. The next cigarette could be the one that triggers a heart attack, a stroke or cancer. And it is not just smokers who are affected: There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Any exposure to tobacco — even if secondhand — is harmful.

The new U.S. Food and Drug Administration warnings are a major component of the Department of Health and Human Services’ new comprehensive strategy to prevent children from starting to use tobacco and to help current tobacco users quit. In fact, each new warning label carries the government-funded 1-800-QUIT-NOW cessation resource phone number.

The new labels illustrate the message — that tobacco use is harmful. The graphic warning labels will bring us one step closer to ending this completely preventable epidemic.

For more information and to see the final images, visit

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.