July 27, 2010

Cigarette Warning Labels Mandated by Law in U.S. – 1965

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill requiring that cigarette packages must carry a health warning label. “Caution: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health” began to appear on cigarette packages and cartons on January 1 of the next year.

Five years later, the U.S. warning labels were changed from the wishy-washy wording “may be hazardous” to a more definite warning: “Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health.”

Since 1985, a series of different and specific warning labels have been used:

  • SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.
  • SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health.
  • SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight.
  • SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide.

However, although the U.S. was the first nation in the world to require cigarette warning labels, these labels are now among the smallest in the world. For example, in Turkey the label “Smoking Kills” takes up a full third of the front of a package! And there is another label that covers almost half of the back of the package, with various warnings such as “Smoking can cause a slow and painful death.

In the Ukraine, packages are similarly blunt with large-sized warning labels: “Smokers die younger,” “Smoking causes impotence,” and “Cigarette smoke harms those around you.”

You won't believe what some countries do: The warning labels, printed with straight-to-the-point statements are not enough, so the packages also feature warning pictures and photos! In Singapore and New Zealand, packages include photos of damaged organs, including unsightly mouths and teeth. (Examples are shown here.) I won't include the warning pictures from Brazilian cigarette packages—they are SO gory and disturbing!

Help other kids learn why NOT to start smoking with these activities.

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