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Court victory means FDA must act fast to put graphic warnings on cigarettes

A federal judge agrees with public health and medical groups that the Food and Drug Administration has “unreasonably delayed” compliance with a requirement that cigarette packs and advertisements include graphic warnings, according to a new ruling.

A U.S. district court ordered the FDA to act fast to implement a requirement that graphic health warnings appear on cigarette packs and in advertising, as mandated by a 2009 federal law. While the FDA initially created graphic warnings to comply with the deadline in the law, tobacco industry legal challenges delayed the labels until 2013, when the FDA stated that it planned to issue a new rule requiring graphic warnings. The agency has yet to act, forcing public health groups to sue and call on the FDA to issue graphic warnings.

The recent ruling is “a major victory for the nation’s health and the fight against tobacco,” according to a statement by Truth Initiative® and the seven other public health and medical groups that filed the lawsuit in October 2016. Here’s why:

Current U.S. cigarette warnings haven’t been updated since 1984.

The text warnings, which are printed on the side of cigarette packs, are stale, unnoticed and not effective in reducing cigarette smoking.

Studies around the world support graphic warnings.

Research has shown that graphic warnings are effective at informing consumers about the health risks of smoking, preventing children and other nonsmokers from starting to smoke and motivating smokers to quit.

Requiring graphic cigarette warnings in the U.S. will protect kids, save lives and reduce tobacco-related health care costs.

A 2013 study, based on Canada’s experience with graphic warnings, found that if the U.S. had implemented such warnings in 2012, as planned, the number of adult smokers in the U.S. would have decreased by 5.3 to 8.6 million in 2013.

The graphic warnings were mandated by Congress.

When it passed the bill, Congress relied on an extensive scientific record demonstrating the need for the warnings and their effectiveness.

At least 122 countries now require large, graphic cigarette warnings.

Tobacco use remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 480,000 Americans and costing about $170 billion in health care expenses each year.

For more information on the ruling, read the statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Truth Initiative.