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New, graphic warning labels on cigarettes packs and advertisements are set to go into effect in September 2012, which many hope will contribute to further declines in smoking rates. “The warning labels have not been changed in more than 25 years,” says Gregg Haifley, associate director of federal government relations at ACS CAN. The United States lags behind “ dozens of countries that have gone to substantial warning labels in terms of size and graphics, but we're catching up,” he notes.

The new warnings, which are required by the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act passed by Congress in June 2009 and put into effect by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), must cover 50% of the top half of cigarette packs (front and back) as well as a significant portion of print ads. They will include 9 graphic pictures and 5 specific messages that will be placed in rotation by tobacco companies. In addition, the warnings will include the 1-800-QuitNow hotline.

The tobacco industry has fought against the regulations, notes Haifley. In the fall of 2009, several companies sued the FDA in federal court in Kentucky, claiming that many requirements in the statute violated their commercial freedom of speech rights. The court upheld most of the statute's provisions, and the industry then appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio. At press time, a decision had not been made on the case, but was expected soon.

Tobacco companies also filed another lawsuit in US District Court in South Carolina in the summer of 2011 after the FDA issued its final warning label regulations, again claiming the labels violated their freedom of speech rights. In both suits, the ACS and other organizations filed briefs stating that the provisions were reasonable and constitutional. “ We are zealously and aggressively fighting what the industry is trying to do to block effective, common-sense regulation of tobacco products,” says Haifley.

The FDA estimates that the new warning labels will reduce the number of smokers by 213,000 in 2013, with smaller additional reductions through 2031.