Graphic warnings welcome

If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, the new graphic warning labels that will be required on cigarettes beginning in October 2012 ought to speak volumes to longtime smokers, as well as anyone who might be pondering that first puff.

In the mid-1960s when warning labels began

appearing on cigarette packages, the text vaguely cautioned that “cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.”

Beginning in 1970, the Surgeon General’s office upped the ante and changed the wording to be more direct, advising: “… cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health.” In 1985, they got even more specific about the health risk and required additional language on the sides of packages such as: “Smoking causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy” or “Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.” Unfortunately, the warnings were typically placed on the skinny side of cigarette packs using tiny text that was easy to miss — or even ignore.

In June, the Food and Drug Administration choose nine new provocative messages designed to broaden the scope and expand the visibility of the warnings. Cigarette manufacturers have until the end of September 2012 to redesign their packages to utilize the upper 50 percent of the front and rear panels of their packages to deliver frank messages about the negative consequences of smoking. The addition of graphic photos of damaged lungs, autopsies and cancerous oral cavities pack a punch — hopefully enough to help prevent anyone from picking up a smoking habit.

The nine new statements aimed at more effectively communicating the health risks are:

— Cigarettes are addictive.

— Tobacco smoke can harm your children.

— Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease.

— Cigarettes cause cancer.

— Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease.

— Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby.

— Smoking can kill you.

— Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers.

— Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.

The new rules come at a good time, as funding for Washington’s Smoking Quitline have been drastically reduced. It’s been estimated that 15 percent of adults in Snohomish County smoke regularly and, an alarming 19.2 percent of local high school seniors admit they’ve smoked within the past 30 days. Perhaps graphic visual messages showing potential consequences will motivate them put down the matches. It’s certainly worth a look.

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