Plain Packaging

The latest in our series “Tobacco & Twenty-somethings”, by Stacy Song

Have you seen or heard about the cigarette warning labels in Australia? One of my friends just got back from studying abroad “down under” and told me about the labels they use. This packaging is termed “plain packaging” and it involves the majority of the pack to be covered in health warning leaving only a small space for the brand of the cigarette. Australia has the strictest tobacco advertising laws, requiring cigarette companies to strip their labels for graphic images of the negative outcomes of tobacco smoking. You can view the labels here, and will probably not be able to stop yourself from cringing. Australia, however, is not the only country with images used as warning labels. 64 countries and jurisdictions already require pictures or images on cigarette packs.

Although we have warning labels on the cigarette packages in the United States, they are not as eye-catching or cringe worthy. Recently the Federal Drug Administration had planned on using nine new warning labels similar to those found on Australian cigarette packages. These new labels were to have covered at least 50% of the package and aimed to be required by mid-2013, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the FDA, stating these labels violate Big Tobacco’s First Amendment rights. The government had the choice to seek a Supreme Court review, but opted out.

By opting not to pursue an appeal, the FDA has pulled back the nine graphic warning labels. The FDA is coming up with new warning labels that comply to our laws. Hopefully, the government will find another way to create more effective warning labels than the ones that exist today. The warning labels that are on cigarettes sold in the US are in an unassuming box in normal monochromatic text. Cigarette companies have stated that they will comply with stronger warning labels but they are against the graphic images. Obviously images have more of an effect on people than plain text, and in my opinion, we are in need of a change in the warning labels used today. They are ineffective, seldom looked at twice and have become normalized. On the other hand, a new study found that plain packaging is associated with more negative perceptions about smoking. At least the possibility of plain packaging has been introduced in the US and hopefully, they will be realized one day in the near future.

–Stacy Song

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