Doing More with Less

Cigarette packages are potent marketing tools. Following guidance from the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, many countries have sought to diminish this marketing power by mandating that (1) large graphic health warnings be affixed to the packages (i.e., text warnings combined with graphic images of the health consequences of smoking) and (2) all packages be fully “plain” in their design (i.e., all packages use the same drab/bland color and font type; no brand logos, other colors, or designs are permitted). Yet, the United States lags other countries in implementing regulations designed to blunt the marketing power of cigarette packages. This is not because of a lack of effort on the part of the Food and Drug Administration, the main governmental body charged with regulating tobacco products in the United States. Rather, it is because the regulatory options that that have been advanced in the country (e.g., graphic health warnings) have not been found – yet – to be legally feasible by its courts. This commentary works through some of the conceptual, practical, and legal issues regarding packaging regulations in the United States. It considers the political and bureaucratic risks involved with issuing new regulations. The overall intent is to prompt our field to think creatively about what is realistic in this regulatory space and to offer a novel perspective that may help move the United States tobacco control community forward in its efforts to reduce the promotional power of cigarette packages.

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