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]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Hi_Hello says:

    just make tobacco illegal or make marijuana legal.

    • Cat says:

      So tobacco becomes the new marijuana? Well, we do need to keep our jails full, and the mob needs something to smuggle.

    • Difdi says:

      Yes, marijuana smoke is a bit less toxic than tobacco smoke, but you don’t see smokers holding their breath as long when smoking tobacco, so marijuana ends up being more harmful.

      Most of the harm, after all, doesn’t come from ingesting nicotine or THC, it comes from the ingestion of combustion-byproduct toxins.

    • ldillon says:

      Your suggestion would save thousands of live a year and keep tens of thousands out of the criminal justice system. So, obviously, it has no change of succeeding.

  2. Bladerunner says:

    This whole thing is RIDICULOUS.
    The government should not be trying this crap. It’s one thing to have informed consumers. It’s wholly another to force companies to advertise against their own products, on their own products.

    • longfeltwant says:

      No it’s not different at all. We make Hostess list the ingredients to Twinkies “right on the package”. That’s advertising against their own product.

      But, I’m still against this. It’s just not “worth it”. It’s a fine idea in concept, but in actuality it won’t help. The anti-tobacco people (such as myself) have already won the war. Nobody, and I mean nobody, thinks tobacco is healthy or neutral. Everyone knows it’s bad, period. Public education is now a completed effort, so further actions are not required. Tax it, regulate its quality, and otherwise let tobacco companies sell tobacco.

      And weed too, let’s get moving on that.

      • huadpe says:

        The cigarettes have a government warning on them already. The question here is whether the government can make that warning contain content that is intended to persuade, rather than to inform, and whether the government can make that warning be of (nearly) unlimited size. The label on a twinkie conveys purely factual information on the ingredients and caloric content of the twinkie in question, but does not for example say that eating a bunch of twinkies will make you fat, or make you shoot Harvey Milk, although either of those may be likely.

  3. EllenRose says:

    Labels on everything are getting so verbose that nobody has time to read or pay attention to them. It’s like the legal agreement you have to click through to install the program you bought.

    Besides, the government has been getting louder and louder. This latest bit with the pictures sounds like bureaucrats turning purple with anger that nobody listens to them. They’re starting to scream at us.

  4. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    That judge is a GW Bush appointee. He is therefore in the pocket of Big Tobacco and is wrong.

  5. longdvsn says:

    We don’t need more laws and regulations to try to convince people to stop smoking. We DO need more education in schools as preventative measures. And we DO need more laws that prevent inconsiderate a-holes from smoking in public places or children where they put nonsmokers at risk.

    If people are dumb enough to start smoking, then let them kill themselves slowly (Note: I wouldn’t necessarily include the >40 (approx) population of smokers as ‘dumb’ though since they may have started and become addicted before the dangers of smoking were well known and documented).

    • longdvsn says:

      *around children

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Dumb enough? It can be difficult to grasp, especially at a young age, the long-term negative effects of smoking, especially after a few years of your brain cells becoming addicted to it.

    • Dallas_shopper says:

      Please don’t tell me you’re one of those people who coughs theatrically when I’m standing 100 feet from the door and smoking nowhere near you, yet you approach my location and can clearly see that I’m smoking and you had PLENTY of space to give my deadly smoke a wide berth but you insist on coming within 10 feet of me, then acting like *I* am an asshole.

      I hate people like that.

      • longdvsn says:

        I applaud you for being in the minority that steps 100 feet away from doorways. Unfortunately, most smokers aren’t so kind. Where I work there are a lot of smokers just 10-20 feet from the main entrance of the building (closer when it’s raining or cold out) leaving me no choice but to hold my breath if I want to get in or out of work.

        • Coleoptera Girl says:

          On my college’s campus, there are smoking students who light up in the middle of the walkway between classes (when the walkways are most crowded) and give everyone within ~15 feet behind them a face-full of smoke. But then there are those who smoke at the benches or, in the case of rain, placed as far away from entrances as possible where there’s an overhang. The good and the bad, but now the University is trying to ban smoking on campus altogether.

        • flychinook says:

          Do you also hold your breath within 15 feet of running automobiles, which produce FAR more harmful smoke than a cigarette? Sidewalks must be exhausting.

  6. Coffee says:

    They just need to make cigarettes look like tiny penises. That would stop a lot of people from smoking.

    • Thaddeus says:

      While I don’t smoke myself I can tell you that cigarettes could cost $20 a pack and look like that and people would still pay. Addiction will make people look past anything.

  7. Cat says:

    Leaving the whole “free speech” issue out of the equation, it won’t make a damn bit of difference.

    100% of the package could be covered with gory pictures with the brand name “Hot Stinking Death” stamped on them, and tax them even more than they are now, but tobacco addicts will still buy and consume tobacco.

    • jim says:

      Not only will I still buy them. I would collect the different pictures and disply them. I swear half the reason I continue to smoke is crap like this. I got it a long time ago smoking is bad but guess what in my day to day life its still something far off in the future. They never tell me what will replace the enjoyment I get from smoking. How to deal with hanging out with the squares after quiting. That type of thing.

      • Mr. Spy says:

        I wonder sometimes if you are right…. “I swear half the reason I continue to smoke is crap like this.”
        We had people preach to us on stage in school. You know, parents and goody goodys come on stage and pretend to be “hip” to say how bad smoking is. Heh. I walked out of many of them thinking, “I should start.” Warnings might as well say, “Live dangerously and cool”. Pictures might do the trick. It is really off-putting, but people always feel that those situations happen to other people. They don’t realize it could happen to them, and won’t believe it until it does.
        Another thing. People blaming lack of education are talking heads. They don’t even listen to their own words. They ignore their own history. I’m 28, and I can say that from 1st – 10th grade, they beat it into us at every turn that drugs and alcohol were going to murder us. Smoking will kill us. Hell, they even lied about the harm of drugs, trying to scare us. Did it work? It worked on me I guess, but I look around and can’t help but feel that it didn’t work on any of my friends.
        I grew up in a world, where cigarette commercials were outlawed. Billboards of smoking were outlawed. They did it in movies, but they weren’t trying to get me to start. The only real allure was right after an anti-smoking rally. :P
        /Never smoked a day in my life. Yet dream of smoking twice a year… And it feels good…

      • longfeltwant says:

        Weed, Jim. Try weed. Use a vape, that’s the best way.

        Tobacco is gross.

        • ChuckECheese says:

          But the buzz is completely different. Nicotine makes you alert and focused and suppresses your appetite. MJ does … pretty much the opposite. I’ve taken a shine to nicotine lozenges because I can have my nicotine without the sloppy mess that is chewing tobacco.

  8. XianZomby says:

    Government is out of bounds when they want to force private corporations to spend private money to further the government’s health agenda.

    If the executive branch wants to get Americans to stop smoking, then they should sell that initiative to the legislative branch, and try to get funds appropriated to pay for such a campaign using taxpayer dollars. If that doesn’t happen, it is because the American people don’t want such a campaign at all.

    Government has done its part already. They have forced manufactures to tell the truth about the detrimental effects of smoking.

    • Cat says:

      Government has done its part already.

      They took big tobacco to court to recoup the cost of tobacco related medical care, and won. Most of that money is long gone. They put the money into the general fund, and very little of it ever got used for smoking cessation. The best most states do is a phone hotline and a website.

      Helping people to quit smoking would kill their cash cow.

  9. jrwn says:

    The government should do the same thing with the one are bandits. Put pictures of families out in the cold, starving because of those who loose everything.

  10. KyBash says:

    Why not show pictures of those nine people who died of lung cancer 1200-1400 years ago and were mummified? Oh, wait, they weren’t exposed to tobacco. Move along, nothing to see here (according to the government).

  11. BrownLeopard says:

    This is why I make my own cigarettes at home.

    No really, it saves me money in the long run. I buy loose tobacco, boxes of tubes and stuff them myself. Carton costs me $12.

  12. smartmuffin says:

    How about we demand that the government put pictures of homeless veterans and maimed Iraqi children on the voting ballot?

  13. smartmuffin says:

    How about we demand that the government put pictures of homeless veterans and maimed Iraqi children on the voting ballot?

  14. JHDarkLeg says:

    We’ve had this in Canada for over 15 years now. There was only a tiny bit of controversy and smokers got used to it very quickly. Smokes are addictive, graphic image or not, they’ll still sell.

    • pinkbunnyslippers says:

      I was just going to say this. My Canadian relatives have not let things like “these cigarettes will blacken your lungs” and the like deter them from their tobacco habit.

      Meh – whatever to me.

  15. Miss Malevolent says:

    I don’t see where tobacco is addictive. I smoke occasionally and by that I mean asking my cigarette smoking coworkers for one cigarette and not asking again for a couple of months or more. In fact many of them don’t know why I bother smoking at all given how infrequently I do it.

    But I’m off point…I think these labels are ridiculous. My friend from Portugal came to visit over Christmas and he brought in packs of cigarettes from Europe where half the box is a warning label and he smoked like a chimney. It isn’t going to deter anyone that wants to smoke. It’s a waste of time. And kind of hypocritical since it is legal. If they’re going to do this with tobacco…why not put dead body labels on alcohol given the amount of alcohol related deaths, and liver diseases directly attributed to it.

    And I drink alcohol about as frequently as I smoke a cigarette.

    I guess my only addiction is good food.

    • Cat says:

      Don’t drink, don’t smoke… What do you do?

      Trust me, cigarettes are addictive. A cigarette every 2 months is not going to get you hooked, though.

  16. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    If smoking is such an evil and dangerous thing, why not just make it illegal?

    Oh yeah, I forgot – PA would be out their $1.60 per pack tax, the Federal government would be out their share of taxes, and organized crime would have yet one more thing to make money from.

    Honestly, I’m sick of this. On one hand, government tells people not to smoke, but on the other hand, they’re sucking up the tax dollars. What a crock.

  17. raybury says:

    It may be “big tobacco” that’s in court with the government, but small producers are also affected. Do you not want U.S.-made products employing American workers — immigrants, native born, and especially Native American — in manufacturing, packaging, shipping, distributing, and retailing?

    – First they came for the smokers, and the smokers were jerks who couldn’t be bother to move 10 feet from the entrance and who kept dropping butts all over the parking lot, so I said nothing because, hey, smokers are jerks.

    – Then they came for the drinkers, and I said nothing.

    – Then they came for my salt and sugar and, frankly, that’s when I used my several legally acquired firearms, but they still took my salt and sugar. And then my guns.

    – So now I am only allowed to eat kale and tiny, tasteless, organic beans. And dammit I wish I still had one of those guns and one bullet, because, yuck.

  18. Gertie says:

    Tobacco will never, ever be illegal because the government is addicted to the tax revenue cigarettes generate.

  19. comatose says:

    “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.

    You mean, like the ultrasound, video and class you have to take to end a pregnancy in some states?

  20. FreeMarketFan says:

    People will quit only when they decide to quit.

    You could have all the worst pictures in the world and they’ll still burn a heater. I was a smoker for 10 years and I finally think I’ve quit (smoke free 6 months).

    The only person that can get you to quit is yourself….

    If you haven’t started – don’t. It makes your clothes smell…and you can’t get the smell out of your car….

    • Slader says:

      Actually, you can, it is called Febreeze or you could do like I do and smoke hand rolled cigars. I love how my van smells after I have had a good Honduran or Dominican in it. Mmmmm, I think I’ll smoke one now…

  21. dolemite says:

    Next up: cookies with pictures of 500 lb women in thongs, and soda with pictures of insulin needles all over it.

    Honestly, can we please start trying different tactics? I’m pretty fed up with a rigid government that instead of adapting or changing tactics, adheres to failed policies, indefinitely. We know the war on drugs has had zero impact, outside of flooding our jails and costing billions of dollars. We know anti-smoking campaigns do jack.

    How about legalizing drugs? Just for like…a year or 2. Try it out. See what happens. How about…tax breaks for people that don’t smoke? Or are in shape (of course, medical conditions are exempt). Let’s freaking try new things instead of simply going down the same broken paths over and over.

  22. SilverBlade2k says:

    Canadian tobacco companies are forced to put highly graphic images on the packages, but it doesn’t deter people at all.

    The American companies are literally complaining over the costs of doing this..but it doesn’t deter people at all.

  23. tz says:

    How is this different from the government (typically states) demanding that a woman be shown pictures of an unborn fetus at the same gestational age and her ultrasound so she can make an informed decision? Usually this is accompanied with all kinds of shouts that her rights are being violated (though informed consent is needed for even trivial surgery in every other case).

  24. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    The companies need not worry that the ads will stop people from smoking – they’ve been doing this for YEARS in Canada, and if anything, my parents and my brother smoke MORE instead of less. The warnings and graphic pictures do not faze any smoker I know for a second.

  25. Difdi says:

    I can see doing graphic warning labels for all advertisements exhorting consumers to risky behavior.

    We could start with Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine recruiting centers. No more recruiting posters depicting attractive and stoic young men and women in spiffy uniforms…show them covered in blood as they die of horrific battle wounds instead.

    Hey, if graphic warnings are required for hazardous products, it should be applied to everybody, right?

  26. maruawe says:

    The government has hounded the industry for the last 10 to 20 years ,There have been stupid laws passed in most cities to limit the smoking of cigarettes in public places.. People have been brainwashed to the affects of cigarettes and second hand smoke. So the majority of citizens don’t have any idea who is right and who is wrong. No one is saying that smoking is a good habit ,but the governments over reach on this subject has really gone over the edge of reality.. America is still a free society ,at least for a little longer, and the government should not design packaging for any product as they are not qualified to design product labels.

  27. dolphin_8p says:

    We’ve had those picture labels on smokes in canada, and a pack costs around $11 here. Still doesn’t stop anyone.