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Published: Thursday, 6/23/2011

Toxic smoke

New warning labels that will appear on cigarette packs starting next year are as obnoxious as a puff of smoke in the face or a clump of ashes on a dinner plate. That's the point.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration selected the graphic warnings, which will cover the top half of the front and back of cigarette packs. They depict the health hazards associated with smoking and secondhand smoke.

Each of the nine warnings includes a photograph and a consequence of smoking. One that says "Cigarettes are addictive " shows a man holding a cigarette as smoke puffs out of a surgical incision in his throat. "Cigarettes cause cancer" offers a photo of diseased teeth and lips.

"Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease" shows pink, healthy lungs next to a blackened, decaying set. "Smoking can kill you" displays a body after an autopsy.

Each label will include a toll-free phone number where smokers can get information and help with quitting. Cigarette advertisements will have to include the warnings, on top and covering at least 20 percent of their display space.

The FDA relied on up-to-date scientific literature to craft the messages, the first change in cigarette pack warnings in 25 years. The bipartisan Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 requires the unsettling labels.

Although tobacco use is the leading cause of premature, preventable death in the United States, smokers still underestimate the severity of health risks. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, global studies show that pictorial warnings are most effective in discouraging children and others from starting to smoke and in motivating smokers to quit.

The new labels offer a strong, visual rebuttal to tobacco companies' efforts to entice smokers with slick ads.

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