The Food and Drug Administration unveiled 36 proposed warning labels for cigarette packs, pursuant to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, that gives the agency the power to regulate tobacco products for the first time and to promulgate warning labels.

Some of the labels – which are meant to cover half the surface area of a package or carton and 20 percent of the space of an advertisement – are fairly graphic, including images of a toe tag on a body in a morgue, a man exhaling cigarette smoke through a hole in his neck, a mother exhaling smoke in her baby’s face, and healthy lungs side by side with diseased lungs.

The labels feature larger and more noticeable textual warning statements as well as graphic color images depicting the negative health consequences of smoking.

Accompanying text includes phrases like “Cigarettes are addictive” and “Smoking can kill you.”

The 36 proposed images will be whittled down to nine after a public comment period that ends Jan. 9, 2011.

The FDA said it will survey 18,000 smokers in order to determine which labels are the most effective in preventing adolescents from starting to smoke and getting smokers to quit.

Once the rule is final, tobacco companies will be required to use all nine of the different warnings as equally as possible on each brand of cigarette and to distribute the labels randomly in all areas of the U.S. where the product is marketed in each 12-month period. Warning statements in advertisements will be rotated quarterly in an alternative sequence for each cigarette brand, and all advertisements must display the warnings, whether on coupons, point-of-sale displays, billboards, magazine and newspaper ads, and Internet advertising, including banner ads.

The new labels will appear beginning Oct. 22, 2012.

To see the FDA’s proposed warning labels, click here.

Why it matters: The FDA defended the graphic images, which it argues will serve as a deterrent to cigarette and tobacco use. “The inclusion of larger and more noticeable graphic health warnings on packages and in advertisements would provide a critical opportunity to educate consumers about the health risks of cigarettes, which would help encourage current smokers to quit, and discourage nonsmokers, including youth, from starting to use cigarettes,” the FDA said in a statement. But cigarette manufacturers have vowed to fight the label requirements as a violation of their First Amendment rights. “Whatever people feel about tobacco use, that does not allow all the protections of the First Amendment to be thrown out,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, which filed an amicus brief along with the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the American Advertising Federation.