U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani has basically said, “Time’s up!” to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the agency now only has three weeks to schedule the implementation of graphic health warnings on cigarette packs, something it was ordered to do many years ago.
The fact that the FDA can no longer delay putting graphic health warnings on cigarette packs is a huge victory for the American Academy of Pediatrics and other health organizations who sued the FDA in 2016 to get the health warnings implemented.
The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act mandates graphic warnings be placed on the front and back of cigarette packs and that 20% of cigarette advertising include this specific type of health warning. When the FDA released certain images in 2011, tobacco companies challenged those images in court. The result? In 2012, U.S. Court of Appeals judges struck down those initial images; however, another ruling upheld the FDA’s obligation to implement some type of graphic warning to deter people, especially teenagers, from smoking.
In 2016, when the FDA still had not issued images that depict the health hazards of smoking, several groups said enough is enough and filed a lawsuit including:
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and its Massachusetts Chapter
- Three AAP members
- American Cancer Society
- American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
- American Heart Association
- American Lung Association
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
- Truth Initiative (a nonprofit tobacco control organization whose mission is to achieve “a culture where all youth and young adults reject tobacco”
Not Soon Enough…
In response to the 2016 suit, the FDA said it would finalize warning labels for cigarette packs by November 2021, but Judge Talwani said that since this newly proposed date is ten years after the original deadline, she ruled the FDA has “unreasonably delayed” the order. The FDA, by September 26, 2018, must present the Judge with an expedited schedule with a more reasonable date than 2021.
One of the arguments the health groups made is that the initial health warnings on cigarettes have not been updated for over thirty years, and text-only warnings often go unnoticed by smokers. The medical community knows so much more now than it did thirty years ago, so updates are overdue and imperative.
Research in other countries has shown that graphic warnings and images, which are required in more than 120 countries worldwide, prevent people from starting to smoke and actually encourage existing smokers to quit. According to a 2013 study, if the graphic warnings and images had been adopted in the United States back in 2012, when first ordered, the number of adult smokers would have possibly decreased by 5-8 million the following year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use is still the single biggest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Over 475,000 American people die from smoking each year, and over 40,000 of those deaths are from secondhand smoke.
Smoking-related illnesses cost this country over $300 billion every year and almost $170 billion in medical care for adults. Additionally, there’s an estimated $155 billion lost in productivity each year in the United States workforce due to cigarette smoking. In 2016, there were approximately 37.8 million smokers (15.5% of the population) and of those smokers, a staggering 76.1% smoked daily.