Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Congress responded to demands for regulation against the tobacco industry, cigarette manufacturers in particular, by requiring health warning labels on cigarette packages and in tobacco-related advertising.

Summary of Event

From the time it emerged as the economic salvation of the Virginia colony in the early seventeenth century until the latter half of the twentieth century, tobacco Tobacco prompted arguments over the possibility of harmful health effects and its capacity to addict its users. Because of the popularity of tobacco generally, and cigarettes specifically, little governmental action was proposed to limit smoking until the middle of the 1960’s. At that time, a broad coalition capitalized on a landmark governmental report and succeeded in passing the first piece of legislation designed to decrease the use of tobacco products by making smokers aware of the potential health risks they faced. Commerce, government regulation of Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (1965) Cigarettes Advertising Warning labels Consumer rights [kw]Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels (Jan. 1, 1966) [kw]Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels, Federal (Jan. 1, 1966) [kw]Cigarette Warning Labels, Federal Law Requires (Jan. 1, 1966) [kw]Labels, Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning (Jan. 1, 1966) Commerce, government regulation of Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (1965) Cigarettes Advertising Warning labels Consumer rights [g]North America;Jan. 1, 1966: Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels[08770] [g]United States;Jan. 1, 1966: Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels[08770] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Jan. 1, 1966: Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels[08770] [c]Health and medicine;Jan. 1, 1966: Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels[08770] [c]Marketing and advertising;Jan. 1, 1966: Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels[08770] [c]Trade and commerce;Jan. 1, 1966: Federal Law Requires Cigarette Warning Labels[08770] Johnson, Lyndon B. [p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;consumer rights Magnuson, Warren G. Clements, Earle C. Neuberger, Maurine Brown Terry, Luther L.

By the beginning of the 1960’s, the rate of cigarette consumption among all Americans over eighteen years of age had hit its peak. In 1963, the average American smoked 4,345 cigarettes. At about this time, an increase in the number of cases of several serious diseases, most particularly lung cancer, was reported by statisticians. In March, 1962, Oregon senator Maurine Brown Neuberger, a Democrat, introduced legislation calling for the formation of a presidential commission to study the relationship between smoking and health. In June of that year, U.S. surgeon general Luther L. Terry announced the formation of a group of experts who would study the existing scientific literature to determine whether a link did, in fact, exist between tobacco and various health measures. In fairness to those who supported smoking, one-half of the panel did smoke, and the Tobacco Institute Tobacco Institute (formed in 1958), the industry’s umbrella organization, was allowed to veto any committee members it found objectionable.

In spite of the composition of the committee, its conclusions were unanimous and striking. In a two-volume report that was released in 1964 on a Saturday (when the stock markets were closed, so that the potential for a negative reaction against the stocks of the tobacco companies would be limited), the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee[Surgeon Generals Advisory Committee] concluded in the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health (government report)[Surgeon Generals Report on Smoking and Health] that cigarette smoking constituted a health hazard of proportions significant enough to warrant direct governmental action. The reaction to the report by various groups reflected their varied attitudes toward smoking in general. The Tobacco Institute disputed the existence of any causal link between smoking and cancer, while the American Cancer Society American Cancer Society declared that the reduction of cigarette smoking represented the greatest possibility for the prevention of cancer, other serious illnesses, and premature death.

In the House of Representatives, thirty-one separate bills were introduced in response to the report. Most of them called for further study of the alleged link between smoking and ill-health. While Congress considered its next step, the Federal Trade Commission Federal Trade Commission (FTC) prepared new regulations and scheduled public hearings on the proposal to require all cigarette packages to carry a specific health warning. By January, 1965, the FTC was considering two separate warnings.

Prior to the announcement of the FTC’s plan to require the warning labels, the tobacco industry prepared its own strategy to minimize the negative impact of any governmental action. The most important aspect of the plan was the employment of Earle C. Clements as a registered lobbyist on behalf of the industry. In addition to all of his contacts as a former Senate majority whip in the late 1950’s, Clements had been one of Lyndon B. Johnson’s most trusted aides while both served in the Senate. Furthermore, Clements’s daughter Bess Abell was employed as the social secretary of Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady.

Clements developed the successful strategy that the tobacco interests pursued to limit the damage to their business. Realizing that a warning label was unavoidable, Clements urged the corporate leaders of the six major cigarette manufacturers to ask Congress for legislation requiring labels, rather than allow the FTC to control the issue. Clements’s logic rested on the knowledge that the tobacco interests could lobby for the least intrusive labeling requirements possible by dealing with an elected body, Congress, rather than an appointed one, the FTC.

Clements’s plans directly conflicted with the proposals of Senator Neuberger, whose husband had died of cancer. A devoted opponent of smoking, she had carried on her husband’s crusade against the tobacco companies after his death, when she was elected to fill his unexpired Senate term. She proposed a strict warning on cigarette package labels in addition to a requirement that all cigarette advertising carry the health warning. She also suggested barring advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products from radio and television. The battle between these two positions was fought principally in the Senate Commerce Committee, Senate Committee on Commerce where Warren G. Magnuson worked to achieve the most fair bill possible.

Although not as devoted to the antismoking cause as Maurine Neuberger, Magnuson was committed to reducing the number of tobacco-related deaths in the United States. The Commerce Committee first debated the possibility of a total ban on the advertisement of cigarettes and other tobacco-related products. After a long fight, the Senate committee settled on a four-year moratorium on any actions by the FTC to ban advertising. Although this disappointed many health advocates, the tobacco interests had been pushing hard for a moratorium in perpetuity. The Commerce Committee then turned its attention to the wording, size, and other specific requirements for the package warning. After much debate, the compromise called for a statement that read, “CAUTION: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health.” After minimal debate, the full Senate approved the bill by a vote of 72-5 in July, 1965. The bill became law as the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act.

Attention then turned to the White House and the question of how President Johnson would respond to the bill. A former three-pack-a-day smoker before a severe heart attack forced him to give up the practice, Johnson understood the hazards of smoking as well as the difficulty many experienced when they tried to quit the habit. Although there was a small movement within his administration to veto the bill because the warning was not as explicit as it could have been, Johnson signed Senate Bill 559 into law on July 27. As Public Law 89-92, it took effect on January 1, 1966.


The consequences of the first cigarette labeling law were many and far-reaching. On one hand, the bill represented another in a long string of victories for the tobacco companies. The warning on the packages was significantly less severe than it could have been, given the findings in the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee report. A complete medical consensus did not exist, however, on the connection between smoking and ill-health. The prestigious American Medical Association American Medical Association did not endorse the conclusions of the original report, and many members of Congress used that lack of an endorsement to bolster their calls for further study of the problem.

Over time, the FTC’s and Neuberger’s original recommendations became law. One of the law’s clauses, included as a result of the Senate Commerce Committee’s deliberations, was the requirement that both the FTC and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, U.S.;warning labels submit annual reports to Congress evaluating the effectiveness of the law and the current nature of cigarette advertising. These reports discussed current themes in print, radio, and television ads, such as brand loyalty, and never failed to mention that any negative aspects of smoking or tobacco addiction were absent from the ads.

In June, 1967, the FTC would recommend to Congress a new warning label for tobacco advertising: “Warning: Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Health and May Cause Death from Cancer and Other Diseases.” This new message did not shy from warning of the specific health effects of smoking.

As the four-year moratorium on action against cigarette advertising passed, the FTC and then Congress held hearings on tougher warning labels, the inclusion of these new warnings in all print advertising, and a total ban on any radio or television advertising. On April 1, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 (1970) of 1969, which barred television and radio ads for cigarettes. Cigarette advertising appeared in the electronic media for the final time on January 1, 1971.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the warning labels law was that its evolution marked the first time that cigarette manufacturers recognized that a relationship between smoking and ill-health did exist. In spite of its protests to the contrary, the Tobacco Institute’s lobbying for the passage of this bill signified an acceptance of the validity of the growing medical evidence documenting the link. As time has passed, the bulk of this evidence has increased. Each time the surgeon general releases a report examining the relationship between smoking and health, the conclusion becomes less ambiguous. These later reports have become the basis for more recent legislation restricting smoking in public facilities and have lent considerable support to the nonsmokers’ rights and antismoking movements in the United States and elsewhere. Commerce, government regulation of Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (1965) Cigarettes Advertising Warning labels Consumer rights

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Balkin, Karen F., ed. Tobacco and Smoking. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Presents the pros and cons of smoking and tobacco use. Includes viewpoints on tobacco advertising.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blanke, D. Douglas, and Vera da Costa e Silva, eds. Tobacco Control Legislation: An Introductory Guide. 2d ed. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2004. A guidebook from the World Health Organization that outlines the legislative ins and outs of controlling and regulating tobacco and tobacco use.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cordry, Harold V. Tobacco: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2001. An excellent resource for studies of cigarettes and tobacco. Provides a history of tobacco use in the United States and discusses smoking’s health risks, law and legislation, antismoking campaigns, and much more.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Diehl, Harold S. Tobacco and Your Health: The Smoking Controversy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969. Written during the height of the early battles, this book offers a convincing examination of smoking as a public policy question. A fine choice for general readers. Glossary, index, five appendixes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Drew, Elizabeth B. “The Quiet Victory of the Cigarette Lobby: How It Found the Best Filter Yet—Congress.” Atlantic Monthly 216 (September, 1965): 75-79. An account of the wrangling in Congress, this article offers readers both a strong understanding of the compromises involved in the law’s passage and an evaluation of the process used to achieve it. Highly recommended.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hammond, D., et al. “Effectiveness of Cigarette Warning Labels in Informing Smokers About the Risks of Smoking.” Tobacco Control 15 (2006): 19-25. A scientific report on the findings from the International Tobacco Control Four Country Survey of nearly ten thousand adult smokers in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia about their knowledge of smoking’s health risks and whether warning labels deter people from smoking.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Hegarty, M., et al. “Reactions of Young Adult Smokers to Warning Labels on Cigarette Packages.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 30, no. 6 (June, 2006): 467-473. Report of a study that examined how smokers and former smokers in the United States would respond to more graphic warnings for U.S. cigarette packages.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Patterson, James T. “Smoking and Cancer.” In The Dread Disease: Cancer and Modern American Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987. As part of a scholarly study of cancer in U.S. society, this chapter is both freestanding and extremely engaging. While discussing the broad relationship between cancer and tobacco, the chapter thoroughly examines the cigarette advertising question. Thorough index and references.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Price, David E. “The Commerce Committee in Action.” In Who Makes the Laws? Creativity and Power in Senate Committees. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, 1972. An examination of the legislative division of labor between the president and Congress in 1965-1966, an especially active period for domestic legislation. A separate twelve-page section addresses the Cigarette Labeling Act specifically. A good choice examining the broader political forces at work. Comprehensive index and thorough annotations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Troyer, Ronald J., and Gerald E. Markle. Cigarettes: The Battle over Smoking. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1983. A social monograph, this book focuses on the cultural evolution of the smoking habit, specifically its progress from immorality to proof of social sophistication to a deviant behavior. Considerable attention is devoted to the powerful groups, with vested interests, that attempted to destigmatize smoking. Although highly technical in some spots, this is a valuable resource. Complete annotations and index.

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