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Health Experts Claim Better Warnings

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Washington--More detailed warnings of the potential health hazards of smoking, as well as better education efforts, could help discourage children and adolescents from ever taking up the habit, according to medical and public-health experts testifying at recent Congressional hearings here.

But two bills now before Congress, S 1929 and HR 5653, both of which would stiffen requirements for warning labels on cigarette packs and strengthen educational and research programs on smoking, face heavy opposition from the tobacco and advertising industries as well as from other critics who say that people of all ages are sufficiently aware of the hazards of smoking.

Both bills have been endorsed by numerous medical and public-health organizations, such as the American Heart Association (aha) and the American Medical Association (AMA). The legislation would be valuable, according to representatives of these groups, because it would provide a means of reaching more young people with the message that "smoking can kill."

"Educating young Americans, telling them the facts, disabusing them of the notion that cigarette smoking is a sign of maturity, helping them to resist peer pressure are all programs that can creatively and effectively reach young Americans with the message [that] cigarette smoking, feeling good, and living long do not go together," said Robert Keeshan, a television performer known best for his role as "Captain Kangaroo." Mr. Keeshan testified recently before the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment.

Both bills would establish new federal antismoking programs and would require cigarette manufacturers to rotate a series of warning labels that are more specific and more strongly worded than the current warnings.

Warning Labels Required

The House bill, for example, would require labels such as "Warning: Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of emphysema and lung cancer" and "Smokers: No matter how long you have smoked, quitting now greatly reduces the risks to your health."

The issue, however, extends beyond the specific labeling requirements to the role of cigarette advertising in enticing young people to smoke, according to some witnesses. "Impressionable young people" who are exposed to cigarette advertisements "see smoking associated with active, healthful life styles," said Dr. Donald C. Harrison, chief of cardiology at Stanford University and president of the aha, who testified last week before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

"My concern is with young people starting to smoke, and I think specific warnings would be more effective" in preventing them from doing so, Dr. Harrison said, adding that this was a personal opinion that was not based on any knowledge of advertising.

Representatives of the tobacco and advertising industries, however, countered that, according to their research, cigarette advertising is not a factor in encouraging young people to smoke.

One Central Function

Cigarette-advertising campaigns have one central function, said a British witness, Michael Waterson, who is research director for the Advertising Association of England: They encourage smokers to change from one brand to another.

If advertising were prohibited, the only result would be a decrease in the rate at which smokers switched from high-tar to low-tar cigarettes, Mr. Waterson said.

He noted that research from other countries that have mounted public antismoking campaigns--Norway, Sweden, and Finland, for example--fails to support the claim that such campaigns cause smokers to stop smoking. Although surveys indicate that fewer people smoke after the campaigns have been in effect, he said, these results are not to be trusted since they are not based on actual cigarette-consumption data.

The main effect of such campaigns, he suggested, is to increase the rate at which people lie about their smoking habits. "The population simply isn't telling the truth," he said.

Another witness, however, took issue with that statement. Such campaigns are effective, said Michael Daube, a researcher with the University of Edinborough in Scotland. The Norwegian campaign, he said, had been followed by "a marked decline in smoking among schoolchildren." In Sweden, the use of a series of warning labels was followed by a decline in smoking among boys and girls, and in Finland, there was a dramatic drop-off in juvenile smoking, he said.

In the United Kingdom, however, there is no evidence that the use of stronger warnings was followed by a drop in smoking rates, Mr. Daube said. There has been a dramatic decline in the number of smokers there, he noted, but it occurred only after cigarette prices skyrocketed.


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