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Docs Want Stiffer Tobacco Warnings

The American Medical Association voted Wednesday to seek stronger health warnings on tobacco products, including pictures and larger, more pithy messages.

The nation's largest doctors' group also adopted a policy calling for increased awareness for underage drinking and supporting excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

The votes came at the AMA's annual meeting after Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the gathering that tobacco and alcohol remain top killers nationwide.

Gerberding also said emerging infectious diseases with a global impact such as SARS and monkeypox are the "new normal" facing U.S. medicine, and that doctors need to be vigilant to control them.

But she stressed that chronic diseases, including ailments linked to tobacco use, obesity and alcohol abuse, are "a very critical component of our health agenda."

The tobacco warnings the AMA is seeking are akin to picture warnings used in several countries including Thailand, where cigarette packs have contained images of a drooping cigarette to show tobacco's ill effects on male sexuality, said Dr. Ronald Davis, an AMA trustee.

Other examples include pictures of a diseased lung and large "smoking kills" labels on the front of cigarette packs, as have been used in Canada, Davis said.

Studies have shown that "stronger health warnings are much more effective in grabbing the attention of the user," Davis said.

The AMA's new alcohol policy is based on data linking excessive underage drinking with learning and memory deficits.

Davis said data also show that excise taxes can help reduce consumption — a claim vigorously denied by Dr. Raymond Scalettar, a former AMA chairman hired last year as an adviser by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Scalettar said there's no such evidence and called the tax measure "very troubling."

"What's next? Do we (tax) saturated fats, do we do McDonald's?" Scalettar said at an AMA committee meeting Sunday.

In other action Wednesday, the AMA said it will:

  • Seek to increase doctors' awareness about safety for older drivers and medical conditions that may affect older patients' ability to drive.
  • Seek better federal regulation of small meat-processing facilities that sometimes also handle wild game. The measure aims to ensure that meat from game animals potentially afflicted with chronic wasting disease does not contaminate commercial meat products. The issue mostly affects small operations in rural areas. While scientists say there's no evidence that the brain-destroying disease can be transmitted to humans, they advise humans not to eat meat from infected game.

By Lindsey Tanner

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