US cigarette makers sue over graphic warning labels

Five tobacco companies in the US, have sued the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over a new law that would force them to place graphic health warnings on their cigarette packets.  These companies argue that the plan violates their constitutional right to free speech, as it requires firms to promote the feds’ anti smoking campaign.

They also say that the new labels violate their right to free speech.  As of September 22, 2012, these new labels are required on packs of cigarettes. 

RJ Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard Tobacco, Commonwealth Brands, Liggett Group and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco said they filed their suit against the FDA late on Tuesday.

“The government can require warnings which are straightforward and essentially uncontroversial, but they can’t require a cigarette pack to serve as a mini-billboard for the government’s anti-smoking campaign,” Floyd Abrams, a lawyer representing the cigarette makers, said in a statement.  BBC

The new labels would violate the companies’ free-speech rights under the first amendment to the constitution.  The 2009  Family Smoking  Prevention and Tobacco Control Act requires such labels to cover the top half of the front and back sides of cigarette packages and 20% of the printed advertising.  Last year cigarette makers lost a similar suit, in a US district court in Kentucky when a judge said the FDA could move ahead with forcing the companies to use the new labels, which include dead bodies, diseased lungs and rotten teeth.

2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act

That ruling is currently pending before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Tobacco use is responsible for 443,000 US deaths each year.

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