federal judge on Monday blocked a Food and Drug Administration
requirement that would have forced cigarette makers to affix graphic
warning labels to their products beginning next year.
Some of the graphic images the FDA sought to mandate as warnings included a cloud of smoke near a newborn’s face, lips with what appear to be lesions growing on them, and, perhaps the most provocative of all, a dead smoker lying on an autopsy table with stitches in his chest and the words “Smoking can kill you” underneath.
United States District Judge Richard Leon ruled that the images bordered on advocacy and infringed on the tobacco companies’ right to free speech, according to an Associated Press report.
"It is abundantly clear from viewing these images that the emotional response they were crafted to induce is calculated to provoke the viewer to quit, or never to start smoking—an objective wholly apart from disseminating purely factual and uncontroversial information," Leon wrote in his 29-page opinion.
Three cigarette makers, including a subsidiary of Britain's Imperial Tobacco Group PLC (the parent company of Altadis S.A.) had sued the FDA in August, claiming the new packaging requirements breached their right to free speech.
The FDA’s move on warning labels originated in 2009, only months after the agency was granted control over the U.S. tobacco industry. And while these warning labels would only have applied to cigarettes, people in the cigar industry fear that such regulation could one day be applied to cigars. It’s not without precedent. Cigars sold in Mexico, for example, must carry graphic warnings very similar to the one struck down in this ruling.
While FDA had an immediate impact on the cigarette industry—banning all flavored cigarettes save for menthol, limiting the release of new products, limiting advertising and placing restrictions on the use of words such as "light"—and other tobacco products, the cigar industry remained largely unrestricted.
In 2010, though, the agency publicly declared it intends to regulate premium cigars, too. As a response, the Cigar Rights of America and the International Premium Cigars & Pipe Retailers association have been involved with introducing two bills, S. 1461 and H.R. 1639, that aim to remove the FDA’s jurisdiction over the premium cigar industry.
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