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Big Tobacco's opposition to labels shows they might work

Apr 19, 2012 - By The Philadelphia Inquirer

When Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration regulatory power over tobacco products, the industry actually promoted the plan.

But that support seems to have lasted about as long as a typical smoke break.

As soon as the FDA banned one of the cigarette makers' favorite marketing ploys -- the sale of cigarettes with healthy-sounding names like light, mild, and low-tar -- the companies cried foul.

They then promptly took other steps to market supposedly less-harmful cigarettes to smokers, even while admitting as an industry that "there is no safe cigarette."

Now the tobacco companies are in a pitched legal battle with the FDA over the sensible plan that takes effect this fall to require graphic warnings on half of every cigarette pack, front and back, as a reminder of the deadly consequences of tobacco use.

A panel of federal judges in Ohio upheld the warnings on labels in a ruling last month, but a federal judge in Washington in late February blocked the FDA from implementing the warnings on grounds that they violated cigarette makers' free-speech rights.

Now the issue will be decided by a federal appeals court, which heard arguments last week.

Meanwhile, a series of hard-hitting new anti-smoking advertisements has begun. The tobacco industry doesn't think much of those, either.

A spokesman for one of the cigarette makers fighting the labels says the rule would involve "taking our package to deliver anti-tobacco information." But that's exactly what the surgeon general's warnings have done for decades.

The planned images of diseased lungs, toe-tagged bodies, terminally ill cancer patients, and the like would merely kick it up a notch in a legitimate public-health campaign to save some of the 440,000 lives lost to tobacco-related illness each year. Big Tobacco's opposition is the best sign the labels just might work.

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