Appeals Court Rules Graphic Cigarette Labels Don't Violate Free Speech

The latest battle over those graphic anti-smoking labels on cigarette packaging has been won by the FDA, after a federal appeals court ruled yesterday that requiring the warnings does not violate tobacco companies’ First Amendment right to free speech.

The ruling by U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit comes only weeks after a February ruling by a U.S. District Judge in Washington, D.C., who agreed with the tobacco companies that the labels, which would take up the top half of the front and back of a pack of cigarettes, are too large and would constitute a form of “compelled commercial speech.”

“There can be no doubt that the government has a significant interest in preventing juvenile smoking and in warning the general public about the harms associated with the use of tobacco products,” wrote the three-judge 6th Circuit panel, which found that just because images of rotting teeth or cancerous lungs might disgust consumers doesn’t make the labels unconstitutional.

However, the Appeals Court panel did note that its ruling only addresses the law’s constitutionality and the authority of the FDA in the case. Unlike the D.C. case, it did not address the specific images used for the labels.

It’s becoming increasingly likely that the entire tobacco label issue will only be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Court: Tobacco health labels constitutional [Reuters]