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U.S. Opinions: Washington

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Kools shouldn’t be cool

From an editorial Monday in the Washington Post:

To buy cigarettes in Australia, you have to pick up a dull green package plastered with photos of a shriveled infant, a blackened lung or an old man with a tracheotomy hole in his throat. The only difference among brands is the name in a small, prescribed font on the bottom quarter of the pack. This arrangement, implemented in 2012, made Australia the first nation both to require graphic images and ban enticing logos on cigarette packs.

On Thursday, Australian officials announced that the nation’s smoking rate fell 15 percent in the past three years for people older than 14. This means the daily smoking rate has halved since 1991, said Geoff Neideck, a health spokesperson. By comparison, the United States took nearly a half-century to do the same.

Tobacco researchers say that the drop in the smoking rate shows that plain-packaging laws – as well as the 25 percent tax increase Australia instituted in 2010 – work.

The United States still uses its 1984 “Surgeon General’s Warning,” small text posted on the side of cigarette packs. In 2009, Congress ordered the Food and Drug Administration to move to graphic warnings. But a federal appeals court threw out the FDA’s resulting rule on the grounds that it violated companies’ commercial speech rights.

A plain-packaging law might not be realistic for the United States today. But tobacco companies should stop their international campaign against measures that protect public health, and the FDA should take critical next steps in reducing the appeal of smoking.

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