Feds Fight Big Tobacco Over Graphic Anti-Smoking Labels

Cigarette makers appear to be winning the legal battle against the federal government’s requirement that large graphic images of the consequences of smoking be displayed on all packages of cigarettes. The rule was supposed to take effect next year, but a U.S. District judge has put that plan on hold until the issue is resolved.

Cigarette companies say they shouldn’t be forced to spread what they call the government’s anti-smoking advocacy with “massive, shocking, gruesome warnings” on products they legally sell, says the Associated Press.

The Obama administration’s argument is that the images of dead and diseased smokers — which would cover roughly 20% of a cigarette’s packaging — are photos that are “factually uncontroverted.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled earlier that nine images approved by the Food and Drug Administration went beyond just telling the facts and risks involved in smoking, and into the territory of advocacy. That changes the free speech ball game.

Leon also ruled earlier that the size of the labels were unconstitutional, and doesn’t seem to be changing his mind for the government after yesterday’s hearing in the case.

“It sounds like they are headed to a place where you have to watch a 10-minute video before you can even buy a pack of cigarettes,” he said.

Among the approved images are a cadaver on a table with post-autopsy chest staples; a man smoking through a tracheotomy hole in his throat; a premature baby in an incubator and in a comparably non-shocking move, a man wearing a “No Smoking” symbol on his T-shirt with the words “I Quit.”

The Obama administration is appealing Leon’s injunction against the rule going into effect. The case will move forward April 10 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

U.S. makes case to require graphic cigarette labels [Associated Press]