After Dec. 1, 2012, if you are in Australia and feel like smoking a cigarette, you won't find your favorite brand in its usual package. Instead you will be confronted with a drab grey package with a warning label and a large picture of rotting teeth, diseased feet or a blinded eyeball. The Australian Health Minister predicts that this strategy will push the nation's current 15% smoking rate to 10% by 2018.
In August 2012, a United States Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that the requirement to include graphic images on cigarette packages ran afoul of the First Amendment's free speech protection.
Talking out of both sides of their mouths, Big Tobacco claims: 1) Such graphic packaging would interfere with their profits, and 2) There is no evidence that the packaging informs or changes behavior.
However, a study involving 200 smokers (not planning to quit), viewing two different labels, showed that 50% of smokers remembered a text warning, but that 83% recalled the message when it was presented in graphic form.
The tobacco industry claims that the nine images selected by the FDA are atypical and overly gruesome. In fact, images of premature infants on respirators, gangrenous feet, and struggling to breathe through a hole in your neck are all too typical of death by tobacco.
From a public health perspective, quitting smoking, or never starting, is the world's most effective health strategy for living longer and healthier. Let's hope that when the packaging law arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court, wiser minds will prevail.
Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 38 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners and Rocky Mountain Health Plans.