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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Worth More Than a Thousand Words: Picture-Based Tobacco Warning Labels and Language Rights in the U.S.


This paper is intended to describe the core problem of inequality that the use of English-only text-based tobacco health warning labels in the United States both reflects and sustains. Our research has shown that language discrimination in tobacco health warnings is undeniable. The use of English-only text-based warning labels has created a grave divide in public knowledge about health impacts of smoking for non-English speaking people and people with limited literacy. The consequences of this barrier to information for these communities are deadly.

This report consists of three sections. Section one summarizes the history and current status of tobacco warning labels in the United States and describes the problem of language discrimination. The second section describes the international trend toward picture-based warning labels. The last section details our recommendation for legislative action that could resolve the current problem of language discrimination and unequal protection under the law.

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