Obama Appeals Court Ruling On Unconstitutionality Of Tobacco Labels
March 6, 2012

Obama Appeals Court Ruling On Unconstitutionality Of Tobacco Labels

The Obama administration has launched an appeal against the ruling of a U.S. court which found that a mandate requiring tobacco corporations to place large, grisly images as health warnings on cigarette packages violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

In his ruling on February 29, D.C. District Judge Richard Leon found that the attempt by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to force cigarette makers to display graphic pictures of blackened lungs, rotten teeth and sickly patients on their products was unconstitutional.

Carefully pointing out that the burden of proof lay on the side of the federal regulatory body, Leon stated that: “The government has failed to carry both its burden of demonstrating a compelling interest and its burden of demonstrating that the rule is narrowly tailored to achieve a constitutionally permissible form of compelled commercial speech.”

Leon also noted that the proposed warning labels, which aim to deter tobacco use, were exaggeratedly large. He also pointed out that the government already has a variety of more effective and targeted weapons for reducing smoking in its arsenal such as cigarette taxes and labels that contain factual medical information rather than macabre images.

The Obama administration announced Monday that it would challenge the court´s decision, filing an appeal Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

According to legislation passed in 2009, the FDA is charged with the task of making sure that cigarette packaging is equipped with color warning labels in addition to the well-known written warnings from the Surgeon General. The label must cover 50 percent of both the front and back of the cigarette pack as well as 20 percent of advertisements in magazines.

A handful of major tobacco companies challenged the law, which was scheduled to go into effect in September of this year. Tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard Inc., Liggett Group LLC and Commonwealth Brands have alleged that the legislation would essentially force them to advertise against the purchase of their own entirely legal products.


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