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What’s an ugly photo worth?

Jeff Horwich Jun 21, 2011
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What’s an ugly photo worth?

Jeff Horwich Jun 21, 2011
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Kai Ryssdal: Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration went well beyond smoking may be hazardous to your health and went straight to pictures of dead people. After years of increasing taxes and a declining smoking rate, health officials are trying to put the final nail in the coffin.

Marketplace’s Jeff Horwich reports.


Jeff Horwich: Health advocates admit: We’ve come a long way. Fifty years ago, almost half of Americans smoked. A few years back, that number hit one in five, and stopped, says Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Bill Corr.

Bill Corr: Despite the many health risks that are now well known, youth and adult smoking rates that had been dropping have stalled.

Two years ago Congress gave the FDA broad powers to regulate tobacco. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin says these new full-color images are an attempt to get through to the 46 million Americans who still smoke.

Regina Benjamin: We can get everyone to stop smoking, and that’s what these graphic warnings are aimed to do.

When the images appear next year, the U.S. will fall into line with 41 other countries and World Health Organization guidelines. Dr. Adriana Blanco of the WHO says images are proven more likely than text to nudge people into quitting — partly by grossing out your friends and family.

Adriana Blanco: Beyond the effect it can have on the smoker himself, they also can impact the people around. For young people probably what impacts most is the lack of the fancy package.

But are the images gross enough? You can see the U.S. ones [above — in the orange slideshow link above the picture]. Other countries go farther. In Singapore and Australia, warnings on cigarette packs and anti-smoking TV ads give an up-close look at a mouth grotesquely disfigured by cancer.

TV ad: Smoking causes oral cancer. If it didn’t, I woudn’t be needing chemotherapy.

Unlike the text warnings, which stayed unchanged, the FDA says it will use its new authority to ratchet up the images, as needed. If you’re not grossed out yet, hang in there.

I’m Jeff Horwich for Marketplace.

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