Saturday, November 13, 2010

New Cigarette Warnings Don't Solve the Problem

The new, graphic anti-smoking warnings proposed by the FDA should be chosen by the middle of next year, and run on cigarette packets by the end of 2012. The warning images do give you pause, such as the picture of the very ill woman in  "Warning: Cigarettes Causer Cancer" and the man smoking through his tracheotomy in  "Warning: Cigarettes Are Addictive."

The new warnings might indeed further drive down smoking rates in the United States. Tobacco companies, though, have already shifted their strategies to sell cigarettes to promising markets abroad, such as China (where over half of the men smoke, according to 2010 World Health Organization statistics) and India.  

"Cigarette companies are aggressively recruiting new customers in developing nations... to replace those who are quitting or dying in the United States and Europe, where smoking rates have fallen precipitously," wrote Duff Wilson in a New York Times article on international cigarette sales and legislation ("Cigarette Giants in a Global Fight on Tighter Rules"). "Worldwide cigarette sales are rising 2 percent a year," Wilson wrote.

To protect their markets, some cigarette manufacturers work to suppress what they consider excessive anti-smoking legislation abroad. Wilson wrote that when Uruguay tried to limit cigarette use by covering 80% of cigarette packages with health warnings, cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris International, whose sales exceed Uruguay's gross income, sued the country.

Driving cigarettes out of the U.S. market, as the FDA is doing, is really just pushing tobacco into other countries that have fewer resources to resist it. In response, the World Health Organization is fighting global tobacco use with its Tobacco Free Initiative, but it's clearly a tough battle.

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