Even though everyone knows we have a growing opioid epidemic in this country, few know that cigarettes kill almost half a million people in the U.S. each year; that’s 15 times the death toll from the opioid crisis and more than alcohol, car accidents, AIDS, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides COMBINED. 1 And, while many countries have lowered their smoking rates (Australia is at 13 percent) ours is still at a whopping 15 percent.


So, in order to drive down the smoking rate, the FDA announced last week that they plan to set new limits on the amount of nicotine (the ingredient that drives addiction) allowed in cigarettes. No other country has ever tried this before.

However, this announcement isn’t going to change habits overnight nor will it immediately take effect. In the mean time, there are other ways the U.S. could proactively work against that rate:

“Cigarette companies also mislead consumers about the relative harms of certain types of cigarettes through the use of colors (light colors appear to imply a product is safer) and language (think “light,” “organic,” or “low tar”).

To counteract those marketing efforts, more than 100 countries around the world have added gruesome pictures of the health effects of cigarettes on packs. (The most recent review of the research suggests the graphical warnings are more effective than text-only warnings at curbing the appeal of smoking.)

Plain packaging came next, with Australia introducing the world’s first regulations in 2012. Tobacco companies there are now restricted in their use of logos, colors, and brand images, and instead have to use a standard (unsavory green) color and plain font.”2

While many others countries have followed Australia’s lead, cigarette packages here haven’t changed much since 1985. In fact, the current text on the boxes hasn’t been updated in 32 years.


David Hammond, a researcher from the University of Waterloo who studies tobacco control, says tobacco companies normally cry “free speech” when asked to address verbiage on packages. But it’s not just that, we also have a strong tobacco lobby. I mean, Congress is always for sale, as long as the price is right.

While the FDA did ask companies to “warn smokers that ‘nicotine is an addictive chemical’3 in 2016, that statement won’t appear on all packaging until 2018.


We will watch this story as it unfolds. It would be quite interesting to see what effects if any, grotesque pictures would have on smokers. What do you think? Would those pictures stop you from lighting up?

Sources and References

  1. Vox, August 1, 2017.
  2. Vox, August 1, 2017.
  3. Vox, August 1, 2017.