On Tuesday, the FDA gave the public a sneak peek at new cigarette labels with graphic, macabre imagery that the federal health agency will mandate on all packs of cigarettes beginning in 2012. The labels include pictures of rotting and diseased teeth, the corpse of a smoker, diseased lungs and a man with a tracheotomy smoking through a hole in his throat.

Given the defensive response to the Food and Drug Administration’s latest anti-smoking campaign, one must wonder whether packaging cigarettes in actual diseased lungs would do anything to curb smoking.

On Tuesday, the FDA gave the public a sneak peek at new cigarette labels with graphic, macabre imagery that the federal health agency will mandate on all packs of cigarettes beginning in 2012.

The labels include pictures of rotting and diseased teeth, the corpse of a smoker, diseased lungs and a man with a tracheotomy smoking through a hole in his throat. Phrases like “Smoking can kill you” and “Cigarettes cause cancer” will also be prominently displayed on the packs.

The labels also promote a “quit line” for helping smokers kick the habit. The labels must cover the top, front and back of the pack. Unpleasant? Yes. But sometimes the truth is ugly.

It’s also the first change in cigarette labeling in more than 25 years, when the rather mildly worded and relatively obscured “Surgeon General’s Warning” was added to the side of cigarette packs.

More than 30 other countries, including Canada and many European nations, have already mandated the large stark labels on cigarette packaging, warning of the ill health effects to smokers and those around them.

Although smoking kills 443,000 Americans each year, it’s not just the fatal diseases that are of concern. Last week, there was fatal fire in Taunton, Mass., in which “careless smoking” killed a 64-year-old woman who was on a breathing machine but still smoking. A neighbor told investigators the victim confessed to her previously that, despite being attached to a highly flammable oxygen machine, she simply could not kick the habit.  

Tragedy aside, such an attitude would be all well and good if not for the profound, actual and potential effects of smoking on those not choosing to light up. 

Drops in the national smoking rates could reduce U.S. health care spending by nearly $100 billion a year, thanks to the reduction in costly tobacco-related maladies, the Associated Press reported in 2009. Imagine the affect that could have in reducing skyrocketing health care costs for the government, businesses and citizens.

Compare that with the cost of smoking. These days, with states and the federal government levying ever-increasing taxes on cigarettes to close budget gaps and fund prevention programs, the average cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes hovers around the $5.58, according to DailyFinance.com. But this price varies wildly by region. In New York, the price is closer to $9.11.

Moreover, there are numerous hidden costs associated with smoking that most people fail to consider when weighing the expense. These include not only increased health care costs, including smoking surcharges that some companies have instituted, but also damage to cars, homes, clothing and other property that smoke, ashe and burn holes from cigarettes can cause. All in all, smoking exacts a heavy toll on individuals, families and society at large.

The FDA claims that the labels will cut the number of smokers by 213,000 in 2013, with smaller reductions through 2031. Canada has seen a 6 percent drop in the number of smokers since it introduced graphic warnings in 2000. If the graphic warnings implemented by the FDA persuade even a small number of the die-hard smokers that are left to kick the habit, what’s the harm?

The true benefit, though, will come from the affect graphic warnings will likely have on cigarette marketing. Outside of Halloween season, perhaps, how many stores would want to proudly display these disgusting images where people are also buying food? How many kids will decide to pick up the habit if these gross labels show the cost they will pay later in life?

More than anything, the new cigarette labels are about truth in advertising. In light of all the lies and deceptive marketing practices the tobacco companies have pushed at Americans — including children and minority communities — to try to get us hooked over all the years, perhaps the truth may finally set us free.

-- Herald News (Mass.)