The Food and Drug Administration is rolling out its latest plan to deter smokers from lighting up ― showing grisly reminders of what could happen to their bodies if they do.
On Thursday, the agency unveiled 13 new warning labels it hopes to slap on cigarette cartons, showing graphic illustrations of tobacco’s detrimental health effects, including blindness, fatal lung disease, amputated appendages and various cancers.
Though the law required new warning labels when it was passed, the tobacco industry blocked the rule in court, winning a 2011 lawsuit that argued the images ― more graphic than the latest series ― were scare tactics. A federal judge decided they violated the First Amendment.
In a statement, the agency’s acting commissioner, Ned Sharpless, a cancer doctor and researcher, said the current initiative is partly about calling attention to the “surprising number of lesser-known risks that both youth and adult smokers and nonsmokers may simply not be aware of.”
That includes conditions such as impotence, diabetes, clogged arteries and cataracts.
“With these new proposed cigarette health warnings, we have an enormous public health opportunity to fulfill our statutory mandate and increase the public’s understanding of the full scope of serious negative health consequences of cigarette smoking.”
It isn’t yet clear whether the FDA proposal will face another legal battle, though the agency may see challenges during its 60-day window within which public comments will be accepted.
Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest tobacco company, told HuffPost in a statement Friday that it will examine the proposal.
“Our approach to the proposed rule will be constructive,” it said. “We will carefully review the proposed rule and its implications to our businesses and submit comments.”
Kaelan Hollon, a spokeswoman for Reynolds American, the country’s second largest tobacco company, told HuffPost it, too, is reviewing the proposal, warning that it must not violate free speech rights.
“We firmly support public awareness of the harms of smoking cigarettes, but the manner in which those messages are delivered to the public cannot run afoul of the First Amendment protections that apply to all speakers, including cigarette manufacturers,” she said.
Hollon added that the FDA should “focus on providing information that can produce health benefits for the public, not merely reiterating well-known messages that smoking is dangerous, which the public already understands.”
If finalized, the warnings would be splashed across the top halves of cigarette cartons on both the fronts and backs, and would also occupy at least one-fifth of the space at the top of advertisements, showing up as early as 2021.