New Cigarette Warnings Blocked - Consumer Justice Foundation

New Cigarette Warnings Blocked

Written by Faith Anderson on November 8, 2011
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New Cigarette Warnings Called “Mini-Billboards” by Federal Judge

The proposed cigarette warnings required by the FDA included thirty-six graphic images such as a man exhaling smoke through a tracheotomy hole in his neck and an image of diseased lungs next to healthy lungs, bearing warnings like “Cigarettes are addictive” and “Cigarettes can cause lung disease.” Leon concluded that some of the images appeared to have been digitally altered in order to “evoke emotion” and are therefore not “purely factual,” as the government had asserted. Although Congress previously mandated that the graphic warnings fill the top half of the front and back of cigarette packages, Leon said the proposed dimensions suggest it was trying to turn cigarettes into mini-billboards intended not to provide information about smoking but “to advocate a change in consumer behavior.”

Writes Leon in his decision, “Notwithstanding the potential legal and financial ramifications of this challenge, the Government, for reasons known only to itself, is unwilling to voluntarily stay the effective date of this Rule until the Judicial Branch can appropriately review the constitutionality of the Government’s novel – and costly – approach to regulating tobacco packaging and advertising. Thus, this Court must – and will – act to preserve the status quo until it can evaluate, on the merits (and without incurring irreparable harm to those companies genuinely affected), the constitutionality of the commercial speech that these graphic images compel.”

Cigarette Warnings Effectively Represent Health Risks of Tobacco

Matthew L. Myers, the president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called the judge’s ruling “wrong on the science and wrong on the law” in a statement, calling for the Justice Department to appeal the decision. “If allowed to stand, this ruling would make it impossible to implement any effective warning labels,” Myers said, adding that Leon’s decision “ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence about the need for the new cigarette warnings and their effectiveness,” and goes against First Amendment precedent that supports the right of the government to require warning labels to protect public health. According to Myers, studies have shown that such graphic warning labels are effective at “informing consumers about the health risks of smoking, discouraging children and other nonsmokers from starting to smoke, and motivating smokers to quit.”

Graphic Warnings Could Reduce Death and Disease Caused by Tobacco Use

“This case poses a constitutional challenge to a bold new tact by the Congress, and the FDA, in their obvious and continuing efforts to minimize, if not eradicate, tobacco use in the United States,” said Leon. Myers however, maintains that these warning labels “serve the compelling goal of reducing the death and disease caused by tobacco use, which kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs the nation $96 billion in health care expenditures each year.” Richard Daynard, professor at Northeastern University Law School and head of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, says the case surrounding these cigarette warnings may not be resolved for years, and the matter is an urgent one. According to Daynard, “Even a relatively modest percentage improvement or a percentage reduction in initiation or continued use will potentially save tens of thousands of lives per year.”

Posted Under: United States
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