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.”
Research has shown smokeless tobacco products, used by nearly 3 percent of Americans, appeal particularly to young men, especially those in rural areas and the southeast. Smokeless tobacco causes nicotine addiction and cancers of the lip, tongue, cheek, gum and mouth. Research has also shown that larger warning statements discourage users. The new warnings mark the first such change since 1986.
The new law requires a rotating set of larger warnings, including, “Warning: This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” “”Warning: This product can cause mouth cancer,” and “Warning: This product can cause gum disease and tooth loss.” Earlier ads required the same statements but in smaller type. The new law also adds a fourth warning to the rotation: “Warning: Smokeless tobacco is addictive.”
Not everyone thinks the larger warnings will make much difference, because the warning is in white print on a black background.
“It’s the type of thing that consumers are still most likely to ignore in an ad,” said Margaret A. Morrison, professor at the University of Tennessee who has published research on tobacco advertising in youth-oriented magazines. “If you look at the totality of the ad, the blue, the soothing stuff, is still likely to attract your eye. This one, even though it’s bigger, it’s not necessarily better.”
Gregory N. Connolly, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said that warnings are still too weak, even at the larger size. The bigger concern is the color ad above the warning, promoting the smokeless product as a way to keep smoking, Dr. Connolly said. The ad urges consumers to “Boldly go everywhere,” a reference to using the tobacco product at places and times where smoking is prohibited.
Dr. Connolly said the tobacco industry has been promoting smokeless products as a way to maintain a smoking habit, rather than quitting. “The industry has an excellent opportunity to show the American public that they have changed,” he said. “I hope they don’t miss this opportunity and think it’s business as usual.”
David Howard, a spokesman for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, said the company “felt it was appropriate” to put the new warnings in ads now for magazines with June cover dates. The Reynolds advertising will appear in Car & Driver, Field and Stream and Outdoor Life magazines. It promotes a new type of smokeless product called Camel Snus — available in “Frost” or “Mellow” flavors.
Reynolds is also test marketing a tobacco pellet called Camel Orbs which has drawn fire for its candy-like appearance and flavors.
Smokeless tobacco products are a growing part of industry plans in response to declining cigarette sales, but the products are quickly moving to the center of the debate over how to regulate tobacco. Smokeless advocates say they should be promoted as safer than cigarettes, while some health advocates say that would encourage new users and deflect would-be quitters.
Meanwhile, cigarette packages and advertising are required to have their own bigger, stronger warnings as of June 22, 2011, the second anniversary of the law. Those warnings would have to cover the top half of the front and rear of each package and include “color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking.” The graphics would be modeled on ads in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, showing cancers, lung disease and other damaging effects.
While the United States was the first country to require warnings on cigarettes, in 1964, such warnings are now among the smallest worldwide. Australia is even considering a rule to ban brand colors on cigarette packs altogether and cover almost the entire pack with a picture of disease.
Many tobacco companies filed a free-speech lawsuit last August saying “shocking color graphics” would force them “to stigmatize their own products through their own packaging” and leave no room in display cases to show their desired branding. Consumers, the companies say, already know the harms of tobacco use.
By DUFF WILSON
Nytimes, May 3, 2010