WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Hansen figures if smokers were forced to look at pictures of diseased hearts, lungs and mouths every time they pick up a cigarette carton, it might douse their desires to light up.
So he and Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., co-chairmen of the 86-member Congressional Task Force on Tobacco and Health, say they will soon introduce legislation to try to require such picture warnings on tobacco packages and ads.
Their announcement Wednesday coincided with release of a study by the Canadian Cancer Society that said such pictures required by Canada during the past year have helped to discourage smoking.
"Our current (U.S.) warning labels just aren't cutting it," Hansen, R-Utah, said. "It's difficult to notice them, and easy to ignore their messages." Current warnings from the surgeon general are in black-and-white text on cartons and ads.
Hansen and Meehan said they will introduce a bill to require that picture-based warnings be placed in full color to cover the top half of the front of cigarette cartons and tobacco ads.
They would have to feature a rotating series of messages, and require accompanying color graphics. They said that may include a diseased lung, heart or mouth; an individual suffering addiction; children watching an adult smoke; or people affected by second-hand smoke.
The Canadian Cancer Society said a study of similar ads there showed that 90 percent of smokers had noticed them; 44 percent said it increased their motivation to quit smoking; 38 percent who tried to quit said it was a factor in that decision; and 21 percent said that on at least one occasion they decided not to have a cigarette because of the new warnings.
"The evidence is in: large and aggressive warning labels deter smoking," Meehan said.
He added, "We need health warning labels that cut through Big Tobacco's advertising spin. Canada's warning labels strongly communicate the dangers of smoking and have a lasting impact. Our bill would ensure U.S. warning labels also speak loudly, clearly and effectively about tobacco's health risks."
Hansen and Meehan said their bill will also include requirements for similar picture-based warning on smokeless tobacco products. It would also direct the Health and Human Services Department to issue new rules to require clear and content-specific health warnings for cigar and pipe tobacco products.
Hansen and Meehan noted that a report by the U.S. surgeon general in 2000 concluded that current warning labels on cigarette packages in the United States are weaker and less conspicuous than those of other countries.
They also said treaty negotiations for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, sponsored by the World Health Organization, are also examining picture-based warnings as a possible worldwide minimum standard.