Smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. Each year, ciagarettes are responsible for more than 480,000 deaths — or 1 of every 5. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16 million Americans are currently living with a smoking-related disease.

A new study published in Tobacco Journal estimates that pictorial warnings on cigarette packaging in the US may be able to change those numbers, and would improve the overall health of both adults and infants

Around the world, over 70 nations have embraced or are considering adopting these graphic policies for cigarette packaging. In the US, just a text-only warning appears on the side of packs, Medical XPress reported.

Researchers examined changes in smoking rates across Australia, Canada, and the UK — where prominent pictorial warning labels, also called PWLs — have already been implemented. Using these and other studies, the team estimated that implementing PWLs in the US would directly reduce smoking prevalence by 5 percent. Over the long term, this is likely to hit 10 percent reduction.

"The bottom line is that requiring large pictorial warnings would help protect the public health of people in the United States," said researcher David Levy, according to Medical XPress. "There is a direct association between these warnings and increased smoking cessation and reduced smoking initiation and prevalence. That would lead to significant reduction of death and morbidity, as well as medical cost."

Smoking-attributable deaths are often a result of suffering heart disease, lung cancer and COPD. Additionally, smoking while pregnant increases the risk of having a child with low-birth weight, as well as preterm birth and death from SIDS.

Source: Levy DT, Mays D, Yuan Z, Hammond D, Thrasher JF. Public health benefits from pictorial health warnings on US cigarette packs: a SimSmoke simulation. Tobacco Control. 2016.

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