'Cigarette packs may come with graphic warnings'

Ministers to vote on bill to discourage smoking; Litzman would decide which warnings get printed.

June 23, 2011 04:39
3 minute read.
Packs of cigarettes for sale at a kiosk.

311_ciggies. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation will within two weeks decide on a government bill to discourage smoking, including a requirement to put graphic images on all cigarette packages and packets.

Starting in September 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration will require tobacco companies to place on each product one of nine new warning labels against smoking that will include photos of rotten teeth and black lungs, a mother puffing smoke at her toddler and a man with lung cancer breathing through a hole in his neck. The color images were released by the FDA on Tuesday.

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After Australia pioneered in graphic images and was followed by Canada and dozens of European and other countries, the US – with its powerful tobacco lobby – waited until now. Israel is even more behind, as Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman had opposed graphic images on cigarettes, telling The Jerusalem Post on No-Smoking Day at the end of May a year ago that he was against the idea because they were “not esthetic.”

But when announcing this past No-Smoking Day the ministry’s plans to reduce smoking, Litzman said that in principle, he would agree to requiring graphic images.

However, the proposed legislation stipulates that the health minister will approve the graphic images to be displayed.

In this case, it is the deputy health minister, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is health minister in name only.

The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which came into effect in 2005 and was ratified by Israel, requires graphic images on tobacco products.

The Israel Cancer Association, commenting on the FDA announcement, said that it endorses the use of graphic images as they can certain deter people – especially children – from smoking and get others to quit. An estimated 10,000 Israelis die of smokingrelated causes each year, 2,000 of them nonsmokers felled by sidestream smoke from others.

Israel has required warning labels in text-only form on tobacco products and print advertising since 2004, but they appear on the bottom of products and are thus much less noticed than those that must appear on the top.

The US warnings mark the first change in its requirements on tobacco products in more than 25 years and are a significant advancement in communicating the dangers of smoking. The ministry spokeswoman did not say if Litzman would approve the sort of shocking images used abroad.

After conducting extensive public surveys, the US Department of Health and Human Services chose the nine mostly unpleasant images from among 36 proposed (one of the few pleasant ones is a man with a T-shirt printed “I Quit!” The images will have to cover the top half of front and back of cigarette packets and packages and appear on a fifth of any tobacco advertising in print media.

The action – the boldest in the US in the last quarter century – met with protests from the biggest tobacco companies, which argued that they were being treated “unfairly” by its “harming rights to free speech” and overwhelming their brand name graphics.

Anti-smoking activists say they welcome the graphic images but that it is not enough, as deadly substances in tobacco products must be controlled to reduce their ability to addict smokers. A free telephone “quit line” for smokers will be listed on each product.

Since the publication of the US surgeon general in 1964 declared that smoking was dangerous to health, the smoking rate there has dropped from 42 percent to 19%. During the same period, Israel’s smoking rate has been halved to just under 23%, but it remains high among specific populations such as Arab and some haredi men, and it is higher among soldiers when they return to civilian life than when they entered the army.

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