Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Praises New Warning Labels, Despite Evidence that They Will Have Little Effect -- Other than Immunizing Big Tobacco

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is praising the new, larger warning labels on smokeless tobacco advertisements, but scientific evidence shows that these labels will have little effect on health, but will have a huge effect in helping to immunize the tobacco industry from liability in litigation.

According to an article in the New York Times: "Magazine readers no longer have to squint to see the health warning on ads for smokeless tobacco products. Big, bold health warnings, which stem from last year’s landmark tobacco law, have begun showing up in magazines this month. The new rules requiring more prominent health warnings on advertising for smokeless tobacco products officially go into effect June 22 and kick in a year later for cigarette ads. Previously, the warning on smokeless tobacco ads appeared in a small circle in the corner of the ad. Now the bold warning must fill 20 percent of the advertising space. “A huge improvement,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington interest group. “You can’t miss the new warnings, whereas the old warnings disappeared into the ad and were virtually invisible.”"

The Rest of the Story

The "evidence" cited in the article to support the contention that these larger warning labels will substantially reduce tobacco use is an article published in the MMWR, which reviews the issue of warning labels. However, that article provides no evidence that these labels actually reduce tobacco use. They simply review which countries have implemented what types of warning labels.

In fact, the research evidence shows that small warning labels, like the 20% size labels now required by the FDA tobacco law, have virtually no effect on product use. People quickly become used to the labels and then ignore them. In fact, brain imaging studies have shown that over time, people begin to see the labels as simply part of the ad, and the labels themselves become a stimulus for product usage.

The one effect which these warning labels will have, however, is to completely immunize the tobacco industry against litigation. No jury is going to find the tobacco companies responsible, or even partly responsible, for damage caused by their products when these companies can argue that consumers are adequately warned of the product's dangers by virtue of these large warning labels.

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