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Graphic warnings on cigarette packs may cut smoking rates

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MONDAY, Dec. 2, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Pictures of diseased lungs and other types of graphic warning labels on cigarette packs could cut the number of smokers in the United States by as much as 8.6 million people and save millions of lives, a new study suggests.

Researchers looked at the effect that graphic warning labels on cigarette packs had in Canada and concluded that they resulted in a 12 percent to 20 percent decrease in smokers between 2000 and 2009.

If the same model was applied to the United States, the introduction of graphic warning labels would reduce the number of smokers by between 5.3 million and 8.6 million smokers, according to the study from the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project.

The project is an international research collaboration of more than 100 tobacco-control researchers and experts from 22 countries.

The researchers also said a model used in 2011 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to assess the effect of graphic warning labels significantly underestimated their impact.

These new findings indicate that the potential reduction in smoking rates is 33 to 53 times larger than that estimated in the FDA's model. They also prove the effectiveness of health warnings that include graphic pictures, according to the authors of the study, which was published online recently in the journal Tobacco Control.

"These findings are important for the ongoing initiative to introduce graphic warnings in the United States," study lead author Jidong Huang, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a news release.

"The original proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was successfully challenged by the tobacco industry, and the court cited the very low estimated impact on smoking rates as a factor in its judgment," Huang said.

"Our analyses corrected for errors in the FDA's analysis, concluding that the effect of graphic warnings on smoking rates would be much stronger than the FDA found," Huang said. "Our results provide much stronger support for the FDA's revised proposal for graphic warnings, which we hope will be forthcoming in the near future."

More information

Learn more about the FDA's tobacco-labeling rules.

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