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Graphic Warning Labels

Come September 2012 there won’t be a pretty pack of cigarettes online to be found.

Not that cigarette packaging was ever pretty, per se, but last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced new, more graphic warning labels required to grace the outside of cigarette packs. This is the first time that cigarette warning labels have been altered in 25 years, according to the FDA.

An example of the new images includes a man smoking cigarettes through a surgically-created hole in this throat with the words, “Warning: Smoking is addictive.” Another reads, “Warning: Smoking while pregnant can harm your baby” next to an illustration of a newborn in an incubator. The number for a national toll-free quit line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, is on each label.

The idea behind the labels is to deter young people from starting to smoke cigarettes and to give a visual incentive for current smokers to quit.

David Fletcher, outreach coordinator at the John B. Amos Cancer Center, teaches a smoking cigarettes cessation program at the center called Fresh Start. He said he hopes that the new labels will have the intended impact, even though most smokers and potential smokers are already aware of the risk associated with the habit.

“I just hate that it’s going to be another year (before the labels appear),” he said. “The more we can remind people of the dangers of smoking cigarettes (the better).”

About two weeks after the new labels were announced to the media, the Associated Press reported an increase in calls to the national quit line.

Whether Fletcher’s cessation program will see a similar peak won’t likely be seen until the packaging hits local markets next year.

The push to quit

Fletcher said for most people, the final push to quit smoking cigarettes comes from a source closer to home than the Surgeon General.

“The most effective way to get people fully committed to the (smoking cigarettes cessation) program,” he said, “is when their doctor recommends it.”

Which is exactly what happened in Polly Willson’s case.

“I do not remember not smoking cigarettes,” said Willson. As far back as second grade, she said she remembers her father catching her with cigarettes. Even Fletcher said he never thought Will-son, who underwent surgery and chemotherapy for uterine cancer last year, would quit.

“My reason for going (to Fresh Start) was (my doctor) because I do what my cancer doctor says, that’s why I’m still here,” said Willson, whose husband, Paul, joined her in the program. “But we got into it and it just — David gave us all the tools we needed that when the day came, our quit date was a certain day, and when that day came is was just very natural that we don’t smoke cigarettes anymore.”

Polly and Paul have both been cigarette-free since March.

Polly said she’d tried to quit “a million times” before and it’s not an easy process. But putting it in perspective, she added, “I don’t want to have to go through the chemo and radiation again for something I did.”

To fill the void of smoking cigarettes, Polly said she reads more and has started potting flowers around her house. Paul keeps his hands busy woodworking and they both have taken up walking.

Fletcher doesn’t tell smokers one specific way to quit smoking cigarettes; instead he lays out several options, everything from quitting cold turkey to nicotine replacement therapy, and lets each person choose what he or she thinks will best work.

Fletcher said he loves seeing couples like the Willsons come through the program because they have an automatic support system in one another.

“They’ve been very successful, helping each other out. We try to get people to identify people who are supportive of them,” he said. “We don’t teach anything that’s complicated. It’s all about coping and the more you know, the higher your chance of quitting is. We tell people there really is no bad attempt at quitting.”

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