There’s been a lot of talk about the FDA’s proposed pictorial warnings on cigarette packs, including some whining by people who say they go too far. Actually, our proposed pictorial warnings are tame compared to the warnings in other countries. Many other nations, including places like Mauritius, Latvia, Djibouti and about a dozen of other countries, are way ahead of us when it comes to explicit pictorial warnings on cigarette packs.
So I ask you: Is public health for Americans less important than it is for the folks in Mauritius? Reading letters to the editor and the blogosphere, you’d think so. People lambasted "nannyism" or claimed that the pictorial warnings are dumb because they won’t work.
But they do work, and there’s a lot of research to show it, including a study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that compared Canada’s graphic pictorial warnings with the United States’ feeble text warnings. The study found that Canadian smokers were more likely than U.S. smokers to think about health risks and consider quitting.
"Health warnings on U.S. packages, which were last updated in 1984, were associated with the least effectiveness," the study reported.
It’s not just pictorial warnings where the United States trails other nations in tobacco prevention. For example, our country has no national smokefree policies. Other countries show far more concern about the public health of their citizens than we do. And that’s strange, since we consider our country so scientifically and medically advanced. Yet we allow cigarettes to kill 440,000 Americans each year without putting up much of a fight.
Heck, Namibia just passed one of the most comprehensive smoking bans in the world. Kazakhstan has tougher anti-smoking laws than a dozen U.S. states. Uruguay, Ireland, Guatemala, UK, New Zealand, Colombia and Turkey have comprehensive smokefree laws covering all types of places and institutions, according to the Tobacco Atlas. That’s equivalent to or better than some of the toughest smokefree laws in select American cities and states.
People making fun of or grousing about the new pictorial warnings on U.S. cigarette packs either don’t know or don’t care that such warnings are becoming the international standard, and that the United States is lagging behind many other countries, including some poor countries, when it comes to tobacco prevention. With tobacco slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people each year in this country, wouldn’t it behoove us to catch up to the rest of the world?