Graphic Tobacco Packaging Deemed A Violation Of Free Speech
March 1, 2012

Graphic Tobacco Packaging Deemed A Violation Of Free Speech

US District Judge Richard Leon sided with tobacco companies on Wednesday, ruling that regulations requiring large graphic health warnings on cigarette packaging and advertising violate free speech rights under the US Constitution, reports Wendy Koch for USA Today. Leon continued, writing that the requirement would “violate the First Amendment by unconstitutionally compelling speech.”

The decision conflicts with a January 2010 ruling by US District Court Judge Joseph McKinley, that upheld the labels´ legality and is expected to end up at the steps of the US Supreme Court for a final decision.

In 2009, Congress gave authority to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco and approved nine graphic warnings that tobacco makers could rotate on cigarette packs beginning in September.

The tobacco products images would include prominent images of rotting teeth, diseased lungs and  a corpse with chest staples on an autopsy table. The images, which would cover the top half of the front and back of each pack.

In the 19-page ruling, Judge Leon argued that, while educating the public about the dangers of smoking, “might be compelling, an interest in simply advocating that the public not purchase a legal product is not.”

Further, Leon said the government has numerous other tools at its disposal to deter smoking such as raising cigarette taxes or including simple factual information on the labels rather than gruesome images, Jeremy Pelofsky reported for Reuters.

Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said Leon´s ruling that the “graphic images are neither factual nor accurate” is “incomprehensible,” arguing that smoking causes fatal lung disease, cancer and heart disease.

Reynolds American Inc´s R.J. Reynolds unit, Lorillard Inc, Liggett Group, Commonwealth Brands, which is owned by Britain´s Imperial Tobacco Group, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco challenged the rule, arguing it would force them to engage in anti-smoking advocacy against their own legal products.

“We believe governments, public health officials, tobacco manufacturers and others share a responsibility to provide tobacco consumers with accurate information about the various health risks associated with smoking,” said Martin Holton, general counsel for R.J. Reynolds.

“However, the goal of informing the public about the risks of tobacco use can and should be accomplished consistent with the US Constitution,” Holton added in a company statement.


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