Judge rules mandate to put images, including a sewn-up corpse of a smoker, on cigarette packets violates free speech.
- Cigarette manufacturers
A judge has blocked a federal requirement that would have forced US tobacco companies to put large graphic images on their cigarette packages later this year to show the dangers of smoking.
US District Judge Richard Leon in Washington ruled that the mandate to put the images, which include a sewn-up corpse of a smoker and a picture of diseased lungs, on cigarette packets violated the free speech amendment to the constitution.
He had temporarily blocked the requirement in November, saying it was likely cigarette makers would succeed in a lawsuit, which could take years to resolve. That decision already is being appealed by the government.
Some of the largest US tobacco companies, including RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co and Lorillard Tobacco Co, had questioned the constitutionality of the labels, saying the warnings didn’t simply convey facts to inform people’s decision whether to smoke but instead forced the cigarette makers to display government anti-smoking advocacy more prominently than their own branding. They also said changing the packaging would cost millions of dollars.
The Food and Drug Administration said the public interest in conveying the dangers of smoking outweighed the companies’ free speech rights.
In his ruling on Wednesday, Leon wrote that the graphic images “were neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks; rather, they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking.”
“While the line between the constitutionally permissible dissemination of factual information and the impermissible expropriation of a company’s advertising space for government advocacy can be frustratingly blurry, here the line seems quite clear,” Leon wrote.
The FDA and the Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling, but the Department of Health and Human Services released a statement saying the administration was determined to do everything it could to warn people of smoking’s dangers.
“This public health initiative will be an effective tool in our efforts to stop teenagers from starting in the first place and taking up this deadly habit,” the statement said. “We are confident that efforts to stop these important warnings from going forward will ultimately fail.”