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FDA again proposes graphic cigarette warning labels

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The federal Food and Drug Administration wants to add graphic labels to cigarette packages and advertising to warn of the dangers of smoking, swapping out the written warnings that have been used for years.

More than 100 countries have adopted the graphic warnings, but the U.S. has used only a written warning for more than three decades.

“We know that graphic warning labels are effective,” said Erika Sward of the American Lung Association, which is applauding the move.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that despite years of campaigns against smoking, cigarettes still kill about 480,000 Americans each year.

“The warning labels that are currently on cigarette packs are ineffective and, as the FDA put it, invisible,” Sward said.

Congress ordered the FDA to add the graphic warnings a decade ago, but the tobacco industry fought back in court and won, saying the warnings violated companies’ First Amendment rights.

“It won’t be a surprise if they sue again,” Sward said.

But this time, the FDA says it has the science to make it stick.

It also has the backing of Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

“The tobacco industry cannot be allowed to hide behind lawsuits any longer,” he said in a statement.

But Reynolds, one of the five tobacco companies that sued 10 years ago, released a statement saying that “the messages delivered to the public cannot run afoul of the First Amendment.”

Mike Hogan, who lobbies on behalf of small vaping and e-cigarette companies, says the graphic warning labels will not be placed on e-cigarettes at this point.

“Half a million people are dying a year unnecessarily,” Hogan said. “We need e-cigarettes to be there as a way to reduce harm in smokers.”

E-cigarettes and vapes are largely unregulated and there is little research on their health effects.

The public comment period for the graphic warning images will open in October. They could be on labels and in ads by 2021.

**Correction: A previous version of this article referred to the American Lung Association spokeswoman as Erika Swan. Her last name is actually Sward. We regret the error, which has been corrected.