Fossil Fuels Should Come With Cigarette-Style Warning Labels, Experts Say

Illustration for article titled Fossil Fuels Must Come With Cigarette-Style Warning Labels, Experts Say

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Research shows Which labels on cigarette packets showing annoying pictures of the damage caused by smoking can help smokers kick the habit. Now experts want to apply the same logic to fossil fuels.

A group of public health experts is calling to keep warning labels on highcarbon products, such as on gas pumps, utility bills and airline tickets, to encourage consumers to consider how fossil fuels threaten human health.

A graphic health warning label used on cigarette packs in Canada since 2000 (Photo by Pierre Roussel / Newsmakers)

A graphic health warning label used on cigarette packs in Canada since 2000 (Photo by Pierre Roussel / Newsmakers)
Photo: Getty

“Warning labels link the abstract threat of the climate emergency to the use of fossil fuels in the here and now, highlighting the real cost of fossil fuels, whether pictorial or quantitative,” researchers wrote in a new article, published Monday in the British Medical Journal. “They sensitize people to the consequences of their actions and represent a push to encourage users to choose alternatives to fossil fuels, increasing the demand for renewable energy without carbon.”

As with smoking, the use of fossil fuels causes toxic air pollution, which is responsible for approximately 3.5 million premature deaths per year, according to the World Health Organization. The use of fossil fuels is also the major contributor to the climate crisis, which poses an existential threat to current and future generations.

The papers Authors say that labels should first be rolled out in high-income countries that have contributed disproportionately to global greenhouse gas emissions, and to major emission sources in countries where they are rising rapidly.

One of the challenges the creation of these warning labels may face is the co-option of polluting industries. “For example, in North Vancouver, Canada, pictorial designs indicating biodiversity loss were ‘co-opted’ by the Canadian fuel industry and incorporated into a national ‘Smart fueling’ initiative, eliminating all health threats,” the authors.

To prevent that kind of abuse, the experts wrote: the warning labels should be combined with stricter rules for fossil fuel industry advertising, “in particular to avoid misleading claims about renewable energy investments when they represent a minority of their portfolio.”

In a groundbreaking lawsuit archived in December, ClientEarth, the eco-legal nonprofit, called for a total ban on all fossil fuel ads unless they come with “a tobacco-style health warning” about the dangers that industry poses to the planet.

Of course, in the end, the best way to encourage people to stop using fossil fuels is by preventing companies from winning and producing them. But there is proof that by forcing people to take into account the moral implications of fossil fuel production and use, such actions could help the world reach a critical mass of people to pressure world leaders to take us there.


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