Tobacco Industry Free Speech Lawsuit - Consumer Justice Foundation

Tobacco Industry Free Speech Lawsuit

Written by Faith Anderson on August 18, 2011
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New Graphic Warnings for Cigarettes

The FDA recently approved nine new warnings to be rotated on cigarette packs and printed on the entire top half, front and back, of the packaging. The FDA has also required tobacco companies to dedicate 20% of any cigarette advertising to the new warnings, along with a number for a stop-smoking hotline. The new warning labels include photographs of diseased lungs next to healthy lungs, a recently autopsied corpse, and a man blowing cigarette smoke out of a tracheotomy hole in his neck, accompanied by warnings like “Warning: Smoking can kill you,” and “Warning: Cigarettes are addictive.” The tobacco companies claim that the corpse photo is actually an actor with a fake scar, and that the healthy lungs were sanitized to make the diseased lungs look even worse.

Tobacco Companies Claim New Labels are “Unfair” and Expensive

The group of tobacco companies involved in the lawsuit is led by Lorillard Tobacco Co. and R.J. Reynolds, the latter of which recently lost a $28.3 million verdict in a smoker’s lawsuit. Other tobacco companies involved in the lawsuit include Commonwealth Brands Inc., Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc., and Liggett Group LLC. Notably absent is Altria Group Inc., parent company of the country’s largest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA. The companies claim that the recently-established warnings no longer simply convey facts to allow people to make a decision about whether or not to smoke. Instead, they force tobacco companies to put government anti-smoking advocacy more prominently on their packages than their own brands.

Tobacco Industry May Benefit from Lawsuit

Besides claiming that the new graphic warnings are unfair, the four tobacco companies have also said that the labels will cost them millions of dollars, requiring companies to purchase new equipment so they can rotate warnings and designers to ensure the labels meet federal requirements while also maintaining some distinction among brands. The recent free speech lawsuit is a different action than the suit filed by some of the same companies over the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. This law, which took effect two years ago, allowed the FDA to limit nicotine and cleared the way for the more graphic warning labels. The law also banned tobacco companies from sponsoring athletic or social events and prevented them from giving away branded merchandise or free samples. Although there are significant doubts that the recent free speech lawsuit will hold up in court, it will effectively delay the implementation of the new graphic cigarette warnings for a year or more. This significant delay could ultimately save the tobacco industry millions of dollars in lost sales and increased packaging costs.

Posted Under: Legal
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