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Warning labels for cigarette packs take a grisly turn. Will they work?

Warning labels unveiled by the FDA would be the first change to cigarette pack warnings in 25 years. Nine graphic images were chosen using consumer surveys that involved 18,000 people.

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Announcing the first change to cigarette pack health warnings in 25 years, the US Food and Drug Administration unveiled nine graphic warning labels Tuesday that cigarette companies will be required to print by the fall of 2012 on the top half of every cigarette pack and 20 percent of every poster or ad.

Some of the images are grisly – showing the top half of a cadaver after an autopsy – and designed to perhaps shock smokers into quitting. Others are somewhat educational, showing smoke drifting toward a young child’s face with a warning that tobacco smoke can harm your children. And, every pack will contain the 800 number to call for help quitting smoking.

“This represents the most dramatic change in the history of the United States efforts to curtail smoking, because it’s the first time health warnings on smoking were selected because of effectiveness instead of political acceptability,” says Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington.

But, will it make any difference once the warnings are in place? They are supposed to be slapped on by October 2012, although tobacco companies are contesting the new regulations in court.

According to Margaret Hamburg, the commissioner of Food and Drugs, economists at the agency calculate 213,000 smokers will quit in the first year. “That does not start to calculate the number who choose not to start smoking,” says Ms. Hamburg in an interview.

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