Update: Federal court upholds tobacco warning labels
Federal requirements for graphic warnings on cigarette packaging do not violate tobacco companies’ free speech rights, a federal appeals court ruled Monday. The decision by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, located in Cincinnati, contrasts last month’s ruling by Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In his ruling, Leon sided with the tobacco companies that argued the gory labels compel speech violated the First Amendment protections to refrain from speaking.
The grisly warning labels, which feature such images as diseased gums and a body on an autopsy table, are at the centers of two legal disputes. As The Wall Street Journal points out, the Sixth Circuit’s ruling focuses on the overall reach of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gives the FDA power to regulate tobacco and nicotine, including authority over the industry’s marketing and advertising efforts. The D.C. case focuses on the graphic images, which include diseased lungs; a man exhaling smoke through a tracheotomy hole; a baby surrounded by smoked being kissed by its mother; a man using an oxygen mask; a crying woman; and a man wearing a T-shirt with a “no smoking” symbol and the words “I QUIT.”
The plaintiffs, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard Inc., and other tobacco companies, have appealed the Sixth Circuit’s ruling to federal district court. Court watchers have said the cases will eventually go to the Supreme Court.
What do you think of this attempt to deter smoking?
Too much? Not enough?