federal judge yesterday blocked a Federal Drug Administration mandate
that would have forced cigarette companies to affix graphic warning
labels to their products later this year, calling the requirement
United States District Court Judge Richard Leon, the same judge who placed a preliminary injunction late last year on the requirement, wrote in his opinion that the graphic warnings violated cigarette makers’ free speech rights. The warning labels were set to debut September 22.
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 a dead smoker lying on an autopsy table with stitches in his chest and the words “Smoking can kill you” underneath.
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 on the grounds that the labels infringed on their free speech rights.
In his 19-page opinion, Leon wrote that the warning labels were not “designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks; rather, they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking."
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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