Update: US Judge Blocks Graphic Health Warnings

Cigarettes, FDA, Health Warnings

Tobacco companies have long been fighting the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act requirement to place graphic health warnings on cigarette packages beginning in September 2012.  US District Judge Richard Leon granted a temporary injunction today in favor of the tobacco companies int he case R.J Reynolds Tobacco Co et al v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration et al, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 11-cv-1482.

Tobacco companies claim the health warning requirement is unconstitutional because it compels speech in violation of the First Amendment.  From a Reuters article:

“The sheer size and display requirements for the graphic images are anything but narrowly tailored,” Leon wrote in a 29-page opinion. Just because Congressordered the size and placement of the new warnings before charging the FDA with carrying out the mandate, “doing so does not enable this requirement to somehow automatically pass constitutional muster,” he said. The content of the images would also not likely survive constitutional muster because the FDA did not attempt to narrowly tailor those either, the judge said.

Tobacco control advocates argue that the graphic health warning labels convey a much more clear message about the dangers of smoking than do traditional text only labels. Educating smokers of the very specific, lethal risks of cigarette smoking is an important strategy to prompt cessation attempts.

For more on this court ruling, see this New York Times article, this Los Angeles Times article, or this Reuters Article.