Health Buzz: FDA Proposes Bolder, Graphic Warnings on Cigarettes

Plus, a few reasons to really quit smoking—now.

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Cigarette Warnings May Feature Corpses, Cancer Victims

Smokers reaching for a pack of cigarettes may soon be greeted with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's largest and most graphic warnings ever, federal officials announced Wednesday. One proposed warning reads: "Smoking can kill you," and depicts a dead body in an open casket. Another, reading "Cigarettes are addictive," shows a man smoking out of a hole in his throat. Others show rotting teeth or an illustration of a cigarette pack with an arrow pointing toward a tombstone reading "RIP." The FDA will whittle the 36 possible warning/photo combinations down to nine and will seek the public's input on the proposal through the beginning of January. If greenlighted, tobacco companies would be required to carry the warnings on both the front and back of cigarette packages starting in October of 2012. The warning would also have to appear on 20 percent of any cigarette advertisement. The U.S. wouldn't be the first country to require more aggressive warnings on cigarettes, the Washington Post reports. Countries including Canada, Chile, Brazil, and Singapore already require them. "Studies have repeatedly shown that large, graphic warnings are most effective at informing consumers about the health risks of smoking, discouraging nonsmokers from starting to smoke, motivating smokers to quit and boosting the likelihood of success in quitting," Matthew Myers, of the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the Post.

The benefits of quitting smoking are indisputable. Here are just a few reasons to stamp out that butt and flush the pack, U.S. News's Lindsay Lyon reported in 2008.

From: 12 Reasons to Really Quit Smoking

1. It fogs the mind. Smoking may cloud the mind, according to accumulating research. A June 2008 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that smoking in middle age is linked to memory problems and to a slide in reasoning abilities, though these risks appeared lessened for those who'd long quit; this is important, the authors wrote, because other research has shown that people with mild cognitive impairment in midlife develop dementia at an accelerated rate. Their report piggybacks on several focused on the older set: A 2007 analysis of 19 prior studies concluded that elderly smokers face a heightened risk of dementia and cognitive decline, compared with lifelong nonsmokers. And in 2004, researchers reported in Neurology that smoking appeared to hasten cognitive decline in dementia-free elderly smokers, bringing it on several times faster than in their nonsmoking peers.

2. It may bring on diabetes. As if we need any more risk factors for diabetes, an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 found that across 25 prior studies, current smokers have a 44 percent greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers do, and the risk was strongest for those with the heaviest habit, who clocked 20 or more cigarettes per day. In an accompanying editorial, researchers made a striking estimation: That some 12 percent of all type 2 diabetes cases nationwide might be attributable to smoking.

3. It invites infections. In October 2008, the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices made its first ever recommendation that all smokers ages 19 to 64 be added to a short list of candidates for the pneumococcal vaccine. That's because there are very strong data showing that the risk of infection by pneumonia-causing bacteria is substantially greater for smokers than for nonsmokers, says Pekka Nuorti, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exactly why is unclear, though there's evidence that smoking may damage the respiratory system's protective mucous membranes, making it easier for infectious organisms to latch on and cause disease, says Nuorti. Other research suggests that smoking may interfere with immunity, compromising people's ability to fight infections, he adds.

Heightened susceptibility to infections, it appears, isn't limited just to those who do the smoking: A May 2008 study in Tobacco Control found that children exposed to secondhand smoke at home during early infancy (especially those born prematurely or with a low birth weight) are more prone to a throng of severe illnesses that may land them in the hospital at some point during childhood. The findings were based on an analysis of more than 7,000 Chinese children from 1997 to 2005.