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No pictures of health headed for cigarettes

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
 

Graphic images of diseased lungs, rotten teeth or a dead body won't stop Lamont Walker from buying his daily pack of Newport cigarettes.

"My grandfather lived to be 90, and he smoked all his life," said Walker, 57, a 45-year smoker and professional cook from the North Side who is on disability while he heals from back surgery.

"I do have an addiction, and I do plan on quitting, but I'll do it for the man upstairs, not because of pictures on a cigarette pack," Walker said as he took a puff during a stroll Tuesday on Western Avenue.

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday released nine graphic images and warnings that manufacturers must start printing on the top half of both sides of cigarette packs by September 2012.

The Tobacco Control Act of 2009 requires the FDA to pair color images of the health effects of smoking with warnings, such as "Warning: Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease" and "Warning: Tobacco smoke can harm your children," to replace the small black-and-white Surgeon General warnings that haven't changed since 1985.

In a letter written Jan. 11, 2010, to the FDA, lawyers from tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds, Commonwealth Brands and Lorillard Inc. called the anti-smoking campaign "ideological" and intended "to elicit loathing, disgust, and repulsion" rather than giving consumers information they could use rationally to weigh the "risks and perceived benefits from smoking."

FDA officials believe the grave warnings will reduce tobacco use, the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the United States, where about 46.6 million people smoke. Tobacco use kills more than 440,000 Americans a year, according to the FDA.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has said analysts in her agency calculated the warnings could persuade up to 213,000 smokers to quit in the first year. The figure doesn't include potential smokers who decide not to start, she said.

The smoking rate in the United States has been dropping for decades. In 1962, about 42 percent of Americans smoked. For the past five years, the rate has hovered at about 20 percent.

Authors of a study of the graphic warning labels that accompanied the FDA's announcement said the campaign could lead to people quitting, but it could take time. The researchers said, "We do not find strong evidence that the warning labels tested in this experiment had much of an impact on this measure of cessation."

Isolating the impact from the influences of other smoking cessation programs will be difficult, said Dr. Brian Carlin, a pulmonologist at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side.

"A good statistic I saw is that if you smoke a pack a day, you're going to see those pictures 7,000 times a year," Carlin said. "Sooner or later, it's going to come to the forefront of your brain that maybe I need to stop smoking."

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