A Tour of Cigarette Warning Labels From Around the World
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Today, smoking gets a grim makeover: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has unveiled nine new graphic warning labels that next year will grace every pack of smokes sold in this country. It's been more than 25 years since the U.S. revisited the way it warns consumers about the health risks of smoking. Now, we're playing catch-up with countries around the world, which are already stamping cigarette packaging with photos of blackened lungs, windows into complicated pregnancies, and illustrations of sexual misadventures. Let's take a world tour of cigarette warning labels!
Photo: MoneyBlogNewz, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Canada instituted prominent, graphic health warnings on its cigarette packaging in 2001, prompting U.S. advocacy groups to call for FDA action on the issue (it only took a decade!). An early study from the Canadian Cancer Society found that 90 percent of Canadian smokers took notice of the new warnings, 43 percent became more concerned about the health effects of smoking, and 44 percent renewed their motivation to quit. Later, a joint Canadian-U.S. study found that graphic Canadian warnings stick with kids more effectively than text-based U.S. ones do. The study's central recommendation: Make cigarette packages themselves more nondescript, ensuring that graphic warnings can really pop.
Photo: stovak, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
In 2002, Brazil forced all cigarette manufacturers to devote a full side of their packaging to graphic warnings. Among them: "When smoking, you inhale arsenic and napthalene, also used against rats and cockroaches" and "Nicotine dependence causes sadness, pain, and death." The country paired the phrasing with photos of expired roaches and fetuses discarded in ashtrays. Brazil's cheekiest warning: A big thumbs-down in front of a man's crotch, with the warning that "smoking causes sexual impotence."
Photo: Brazilian Health Ministry.
Since 2004, the European Union has floated 42 different graphic warnings for member countries to stamp on their cigarettes. Belgium, the UK, and Romania were among the first to institute the photographic warnings; France fell in line in April of this year.
In 2009, researchers found that "French people no longer react to current text warnings because these messages are old and tired," but that "French society is more rigid, inflexible and probably less open to changes and thus, more resistant towards new graphic tobacco warnings." Respondents' perception of graphic warning labels hinged on design: An image of the "face of a woman and a skeleton" drew criticism due to a "lack of understanding and the image, which was judged too beautiful"; a photo of "a baby in an incubator" was deemed "relevant, credible and important."
After consulting the public, the United Kingdom selected 15 European Union-approved graphic treatments for its packs. Now, smokers in the UK are treated to photos of open-heart surgery, kid models inhaling smoke, rotting teeth, and this blue-tinged corpse (above). A quick fix for staring at open throat wounds: Back in 2003, the Telegraph claimed that the institution of both text and picture-based warnings had fueled an increase in sales of mod cigarette cases in the region.
Photo: andybullock77, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Singapore's warnings, instituted in 2004, are among the world's most gruesome. The country's cigarettes come embellished with miscarried fetuses, mouth cancers, neck cysts, and gangrened toes. Bonus: A quitting hotline number is printed on each pack.
Photo: jenny8lee, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Choice phrases printed on Thai cigarettes: "Smoking causes lung cancer"; "Smoking causes oral cancer"; "Smoking causes lung cancer." Plus, factoids for the vain: "cigarettes cause bad breath"; "cigarettes accelerate old age."
Photo: bfick, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Since 2008, cigarettes in India have been stamped with graphic warning labels illustrating the negative physical effects of smoking. But the initial images ranged from pixelated (above) to perplexing (check out this scorpion silhouette). This year, the country voted to upgrade its warning graphics with full-color snapshots of physical deformities and clearer illustrations of blackened lungs.
Photo: Ashok666, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Next year, every pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S. will feature full-color, prominently-placed warnings on the dangers of lighting up. Under the new rules, the warnings must make up at least 50 percent of the real estate on both the front and rear panels of a pack. The nine new written warnings range from the upbeat ("Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health") to the up-front ("Smoking can kill you").
Back in November, the FDA floated 36 potential graphic treatments to illustrate those warnings: The government proposed illustrated crying babies; simulated corpse photographs; mourning women; even a lady inexplicably blowing a bubble. This morning, the FDA settled on nine graphics; check them out here.