Fact check: Cigarette warning labels in US haven't changed since 1984

·4 min read

The claim: A warning label on cigarette packaging changed from December to January

Social media users have widely shared an image that purports to show a change in the warning label on cigarette packages.

A Jan. 12 Facebook post features two stacked images of the supposed labels.

The top image, which the post claims is from December, reads, "Tobacco smoke contains a toxic mix of chemicals that cause disease and early death in children and non-smoking adults exposed to the smoke."

The bottom image, purportedly from January, reads, "Inhaling even small amounts of the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can trigger sudden blood clots, heart attacks and strokes."

The post accumulated more than 150 interactions within a few days. Similar versions on Twitter gathered thousands more, as did an Instagram post that was later deleted.

Some social media users suggested the new risks were listed as a means of hiding the negative effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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"Blame it on anything but the shot," wrote one commenter.

"Using anything to hide the shots (sic) effects," wrote another.

But as other independent fact-checking organizations have pointed out, the claim is not based in fact.

The text in both labels stems from Australian tobacco legislation passed more than a decade ago. The country's cigarette warnings have not changed since those labels took effect in early 2012. The connection between smoking and health conditions like blood clots is not a recent discovery. And required cigarette warning labels in the U.S. have not changed since 1984.

USA TODAY reached out to several social media users who shared the image for comment.

Labels passed in Australia in 2011

Both warning labels depicted in the image come from Australia's Competition and Consumer (Tobacco) Information Standard 2011, which provides health warnings related to the use of tobacco products.

The text from the first label can be found under Section 3.2 titled, "Smoking harms unborn babies." The second appears in Section 4.7, titled "Smoking doubles your risk of stroke."

Those health effects are not a recent discovery, according to Dr. Ari Cedars, a professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine with expertise in adult congenital heart disease.

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Cedars, who specializes in cardiovascular disease, told USA TODAY in an email that the relationship between smoking and coronary artery disease, or damage in the heart's major blood vessels, has been recognized since the 1970s and 1980s. The same is true of cerebrovascular disease, blood clots – specifically deep vein thromboses – and strokes.

The social media posts were taken by some Americans to say cigarette warning labelsin the U.S. may have recently changed to reflect those facts. But that's not the case.

Health warnings first appeared on cigarette packages in 1966, according to the Food and Drug Administration. They were most recently updated in 1984 to include four warnings from the surgeon general.

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"SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy," reads one of the warnings.

The FDA has proposed new required warnings for cigarette packages, one of which reads, "Smoking can cause heart disease and strokes by clogging arteries." But that label, as well as 10 others, is not set to take effect until 2023.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that a warning label on cigarette packaging changed from December to January.

Both labels pictured in the Instagram post stem from Australian tobacco legislation passed in 2011. The country's cigarette warnings have not changed since those labels took effect in early 2012. The link between smoking and increased risk for blood clots, strokes and heart attacks isn't new. And required cigarette warning labels in the U.S. have not changed since 1984.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Australia's cigarette package warning labels are not new