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Published: Saturday, 11/13/2010

No picture of health

A new federal campaign proposes to discourage smoking by putting images of corpses, cancer patients, and diseased lungs on cigarette packs. If such graphic evidence of smoking's effects isn't an adequate caution, it's hard to know what would be.

Under a new law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now has the authority to regulate tobacco products. The agency wants to use that authority to change how cigarettes are advertised and marketed.

Cigarette packages now are required to carry alerts such as: "Surgeon General's Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy." But the placement and brevity of these messages make them easy to ignore.

The new warning labels would cover half of a package surface, front and back. The proposed pictures include a man smoking from a tracheotomy tube in his throat and a woman blowing smoke on her baby.

The FDA is proposing 36 labels for public comment, and expects to select the finalists next June. Cigarette makers then will have 15 months to start using the new labels, with phrases such as "smoking can kill you" and "cigarettes cause cancer."

Anti-smoking efforts need to be re-energized in the United States, and the proposed labels are an important initiative. The percentage of Americans who smoke has fallen dramatically, but those declines have stalled in recent years.

The toll of illness and death taken by tobacco remains high. If the new visual labels can affect the behavior of some of the 46 million adults - and more than 3 million teenagers - who smoke in this country, they'll be worth more than words can say.

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