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Judge Halts Graphic Cigarette Warnings

Andrew Nagy
Posted: March 1, 2012

A 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 unconstitutional.

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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Comments   5 comment(s)

Erik Baron — Jarrell, Texas, USA,  —  March 3, 2012 1:28pm ET

I am not personally a day to day cigar smoker but at the same time i still want to get the cigars and if i choose to cigarettes when ever, and however I wanted to with NO! pictures of dead bodys or a baby with smoke next to it in any way, shape, or form...but now at the same time the people that are smoking in the house and they have children they either need to stop or go outside or even better go outside and away from the house because you are hurting your kids/loved ones and to me that should be consider "child abuse"...and another thing that my friend said "if you have an illness of some sort like cancer, HIV/AIDs, etc. then why is it that you can continue to keep smoking and then turn around and sue the tabacoo industrie <> That is wrong and the system should just turn around and tell them to "STOP IT" and do somthing more worth wild. Sham on the FDA, people who smoke in the same area as their loved ones/kids, and shame on the people trying to sue the industrie KNOWING that the products are not GREAT for you >>> You all deserve the Darwin award <> Dumb ass'Z


Jonathan Catlin — White Haven, PA, USA,  —  March 3, 2012 2:49pm ET

The government willfully spreads the misconception that cigarette and cigar smoking are the same thing - grimy, addictive, and terrible. They also tell you that the risks are the same, even though cigar smokers don't (typically) inhale. Cigar boxes are art, cigarette packs are landfill material. I wish we free Americans would be left to make up our own minds! Cigar smoking is a long-lasting, contemplative experience. You don't "run out for a quick smoke" when you're lighting up a maduro. We don't interfere with the air around doorways and don't blow smoke around kids. We sit, we sip our drinks, and smoke. Cigarettes are for those who are addicted to a rather trashy pursuit.


Gary Bazdell — Ottawa, ON, Canada,  —  March 5, 2012 1:27pm ET

In Canada the graphic pictures have been mandatory on all tobacco products for years. It's also against the law to display cigarettes and as such they must be hidden from view at great expense to the retailer. The tobacco companies have not been allowed to advertise for years, nor sponsor any public events. The government has been running anti smoking programs in all forms of media relentlessly. More cigarettes and cigars are sold in Canada today than in the history of the country. Go figure.


johnozed March 10, 2012 1:43pm ET

The petty differences between cigar smokers and cigarette smokers only helps these rules and regulations to be enforced. It's not too smart calling one's habit a 'rather trashy pursuit' and helps no one, unless your goal is to be smug. If smokers were united the powers that be would find it's not so easy to steamroll over us. I smoke both cigars and cigarettes by the way.


mete oktar — istanbul, Turkey,  —  March 14, 2012 12:52pm ET

Sooner or later we will die anyhow, let's enjoy the taste of life till the day we die


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