Federal judge blocks new tobacco warning label requirements

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Monday granted a temporary injunction to block the implementation [order, PDF] of new requirements of graphic image and textual warning labels imposed by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text]. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] has mandated that by September 2012, all cigarette packaging shall contain new warning labels [FDA backgrounder] with graphic images of the health issues related to smoking and related textual warnings. A suit filed by the RJ Reynolds Co [corporate website], the manufacturer of several popular cigarette brands, requested the injunction [complaint, PDF] on the basis that the new regulations violate their First Amendment rights and burden their right to commercial speech by compelling placement of the new warning labels on the top 50 and bottom 20 percent of all packaging and advertisements. Judge Richard Leon agreed with the plaintiff's assertions in his related opinion [text, PDF]:

[T]his Court concludes that the plaintiffs have demonstrated: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) that they will suffer irreparable harm absent injunctive relief; (3) that neither the Government, nor the public, will suffer any comparable injury as a result of the relief sought; and (4) that the public's interest in the protection of its First Amendment rights against unconstitutionally compelled speech will be, in fact, furthered.
The FDA based its arguments on a ruling [JURIST report] issued in January 2010 by the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky [official website] which upheld the majority of restrictions on cigarette advertising imposed by the FSPTCA, including the new warning labels. Leon acknowledged this argument, but decided that ultimately the tobacco companies could prevail in their suit to prevent the implementation of the new warnings.

In July, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in the tobacco advertising case, Discount Tobacco City & Lottery v. USA [Justia backgrounder], on which the FDA has relied. The Sixth Circuit has not yet issued an opinion on the case. In 2009, US President Barack Obama [official website] signed the FSPTCA into law [JURIST report], granting the FDA certain authority to regulate tobacco products. The legislation heightens warning-label requirements, prohibits marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allows for the regulation of cigarette ingredients. The bill gives the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products but does not permit the agency to regulate tobacco leaf that is not in the hands of tobacco product manufacturers or producers of tobacco leaf, including tobacco growers, tobacco warehouses and tobacco grower cooperatives. Cigarettes and other tobacco products have been subject to strict marketing regulations on both the federal and state levels.

 

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