Lots of new and pending government regulations of product labeling were in the headlines recently. The news that received the most attention in the U.S. involved the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) unveiling of new graphic warning label requirements for cigarette packaging. The announced implementation resulted from the June 2009 passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA), reported to be the first government required change in cigarette labeling in 25 years.
The required changes need to be in place by September 2012 and are quite significant. One of nine new graphic images and one of several new warnings, such as "Cigarettes cause cancer" or "Cigrarettes are addictive," need to cover the upper portion of the front and back of the pack, with at least 50 percent coverage. Although the package labeling will be a drastic shift for U.S. smokers, it is not at all new in other parts of the world. The U.S. is the 40th country to require graphic warnings on cigarette packs; Canada, for one, has had it in place since 2000.
In a similar, but unrelated item, an article in the June 18 issue of The Economist discussed possible FDA regulations for nutritional information on food labeling. The FDA is considering the value of standards geared toward differentiating healthy foods from not-so-healthy (a.k.a., junk) foods.
Part of the drive for this effort results from some recent implementations by various consumer product companies (CPCs), food industry groups, and other associations to provide icons that are supposed to help consumers make educated choices. The article cited PepsiCo's "Smart Spot" logo (2004); Kraft's "Sensible Solution" tag (2005); the American Heart Association's "heart-check" mark; and the "Smart Choices" label endorsed by larger food companies that was scrapped in 2009. Problems have arisen due to inconsistent nutritional criteria applied to the icons, with some history that they can be misleading.