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NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Diseased lungs, dead bodies, a man on a ventilator and mothers blowing smoke in their children's faces are among the images U.S. health officials are considering in their effort to revamp tobacco warning labels.
The "graphic health warnings," unveiled on Wednesday, aim to depict the negative effects of smoking, and they will be required on all cigarette packages and advertisements as of October 2012.
The FDA will accept comments on its proposed warnings until January 9. In June, the agency will choose nine graphic images from the 36 it has proposed.
More prominent warnings on cigarette packages, including larger text labels, were mandated in a June 2009 law putting the multibillion-dollar tobacco industry under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The proposal offers the most significant and important change in public health warnings since the release of the surgeon general's landmark report on smoking in the 1960s, said Matt Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"These warnings are based on the best evidence about how to raise awareness and concern about the health effects of smoking with at-risk youth and smokers thinking about quitting," Myers said.
A 1964 surgeon general's report concluded that smoking was linked to lung cancer and other diseases, spurring a broad anti-smoking campaign and new health warnings on cigarette packages.
The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act called for cigarette packages to include new warning statements in large type covering half of the front and back of each package and graphic images showing adverse health effects from smoking. The warnings will also occupy the top 20 percent of every tobacco advertisement.
"For the first time ever, they will say that tobacco products are addictive, and they will say in the bluntest of terms that tobacco can kill," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. "We need to make sure that anyone who is considering smoking fully appreciates the consequences of cigarette use."
But investors are skeptical that the warnings will have much impact on sales of cigarettes.
Charles Norton, a portfolio manager with GNI Capital Inc, said similar efforts in other markets around the world have had little effect.
"I think it will ultimately have very limited impact on consumption," Norton said.
Altria Group Inc's Philip Morris unit, the largest U.S. cigarette maker, supported the overall bill, while some smaller rivals, such Reynolds American Inc's R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit and Lorillard Inc's Lorillard Tobacco Co, opposed it.
A spokesman for R.J. Reynolds declined to comment before reviewing the 140-page proposal, but noted that the company had challenged the legality of larger and graphic warnings in a pending federal lawsuit in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
A Lorillard spokesman declined to comment.
The Dow Jones tobacco index, whose components include Altria, Lorillard and Reynolds American, was down 0.8 percent in midday trading.
Reporting by Jon Lentz and Emily Stephenson, editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Lisa Von Ahn