Germany adds black lung, rotting teeth photos to cigarette packs

Posted Mar 20, 2016 by Megan Hamilton
In an effort to curb smoking, Germany is placing startling images of black lungs and rotting teeth on cigarette packages as part of a mandatory regulation established by the European Union. Predictably, tobacco industry bigwigs are not happy about this.
A variety of cigarettes
A variety of cigarettes
Denis Charlet, AFP/File
In Germany, smoking-related causes kill 120,000 people each year, according to Marlene Mortler, the country's drug commissioner, DW reports. The European Union was wrestling with this, because even though people know that cigarettes are health risks, they still purchase them.
So the EU came up with a law in 2014 that said two-thirds of a cigarette pack must be covered by "health-relevant warnings," meaning texts and pictures.
Now EU member Germany is putting the regulation into place as well. After the government approved the regulation, the Bundesrat, a legislative body representing each of Germany's 16 states, was the last institution to agree to it.
This means beginning May 20, smokers can expect images of black lungs and dead people to appear on German cigarette packs.
Germany, in fact, is one of the last EU countries to implement this regulation.
The goal is to keep young people from smoking, and it's an issue that has been lagging behind, noted Burkhard Blienert, the drug policy spokesman for the Bundestag's Social Democrats group.
"Smoking mustn't be equated with freedom," he said. "It's highly damaging to your health."
Cigarette and tobacco products that don't have the graphic images that are produced until May 2016 will be allowed in stores for one year.
Tobacco industry representatives fought unsuccessfully for an extended transition period, but that request was rejected by the German parliament and government, DW reports. Lobbyists argue that implementing the rule with such a short grace period between March 18 and May 20 will hurt medium-sized, middle-class businesses more than it will global corporations.
"The Bundesrat's decision is the unfortunate final stroke in a long discussion," said Michael von Foerster, head of the German Tobacco Industry Association. He noted that most countries get a deadline in which they have to implement the law, and then businesses are given a time period that gives them a chance to adjust to the new rules.
For local tobacco producers, the costs for making the new packaging in less than two months may be prohibitive, he added. Industry giants like Philip Morris wouldn't be impacted as much.
But Blienert said the industry let far too much time pass, especially since the rules were introduced in 2014.
"They just didn't deal with the issue seriously," he said.
Blienert believes the gruesome images can serve as a deterrent, and a study by Abigail T. Evans from Ohio State University seems to corroborate this. Her study showed that graphic photos on cigarette packages could lower smoking rates. Study participants who were given their usual cigarette packs adorned with photos and written warnings were likelier to formulate an intention to quit smoking. And the pictures also made people consider more seriously the written warnings.
The study was published in the online journal Plos One.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 people per year in the United States. This includes nearly 42,000 deaths that result from secondhand smoke.
Smokers also die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, on average.
Additionally, more than 16 million Americans now live with a disease caused by smoking, and for every person who dies because of smoking, another 30 or more people live with a serious smoking-related illness, the CDC reports. Smokers also face a higher risk for tuberculosis, some eye diseases, and diseases of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Besides obvious diseases like lung cancer, smoking is also implicated in causing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and several other diseases, the American Lung Association reports. Heart disease, stroke, asthma, and even ectopic pregnancy can result from smoking.
E-cigarettes will also be regulated and flavored tobacco products, and all products containing menthol will be completely banned beginning May 20, 2020.