2000 Surgeon General's Report Highlights: Warning Labels




  • The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 (Public Law 89–92) required that the warning “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health” be placed in small print on one of the side panels of each cigarette package. The act prohibited additional labeling requirements at the federal, state, or local levels.
  • In June 1967 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its first report to Congress recommending that the warning label be changed to “Warning: Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Health and May Cause Death from Cancer and Other Diseases.”
  • In 1969 Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act (Public Law 91–222), which prohibited cigarette advertising on television and radio and required that each cigarette package contain the label “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health.”
  • In 1981 the FTC issued a report to Congress that concluded health warning labels had little effect on public knowledge and attitudes about smoking. As a result of this report, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Smoking Education Act of 1984 (Public Law 98–474), which required four specific health warnings on all cigarette packages and advertisements:
    • SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.
    • SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health.
    • SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, and Low Birth Weight.
    • SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide.
  • By the mid-1980s scientific evidence revealed that smokeless tobacco use causes oral cancer, nicotine addiction, and other health problems. The Comprehensive Smokeless Tobacco Health Education Act of 1986 (Public Law 99–252) required three rotating warning labels on smokeless tobacco packaging and advertisements:
    • WARNING: This product may cause mouth cancer.
    • WARNING: This product may cause gum disease and tooth loss.
    • WARNING: This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.
  • Warning labels on cigarette packages in the United States are weaker and less prominent than those of many other countries.
  • The Australian warning method uses six rotating messages covering 25% of the front of the cigarette package. One side panel is entirely given to the labeling of dangerous constituents. The government also requires that 33% of the back panel include the same message and an elaboration of that message.


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