Facing heavy legal challenges from tobacco industry, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has concluded to discard its nine graphic heal warnings for tobacco products and begin from the start again.
The federal body said it will return to the drawing board and develop new warnings rather than keep fighting against the tobacco companies for its present labels, among which are pictures of dead lungs and smoker’s corpse. The agency had a term until Monday, March 18 to request the U.S. Supreme Court to revise a ruling by an Appeals Court that upheld the decision that the requiring graphic labels infringed free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.
“Due to the latter conditions the Solicitor General has made a decision not to request Supreme Court revision of the First Amendment matters at this moment,” said a letter by Attorney General Eric Holder, attained by the Associated Press.
The FDA revealed the nine graphic warning labels — a combination of pictures and text — in June 2011 and required that they are placed on all cigarette packs and advertisements by Sept. 22, 2012.
Nevertheless, the requirement instantly met opposition from the leading tobacco groups. Lorillard, Reynolds American, Liggett Group and Commonwealth Brands submitted a legal challenge stating that the latest warnings infringed the commercial free speech provision of the First Amendment. The plaintiffs asserted it was not constitutional to oblige tobacco companies to spread the federal government’s anti-smoking declarations.
Responding to the litigation, the FDA stated the public interest in sharing the hazards of tobacco consumption exceeds the plaintiffs’ free speech rights. The federal body also underlined that its was entitled by the Congress to regulate the industry and mandate the new warnings since the existing warnings introduced in 1984 weren’t notices and health messaged weren’t transmitted effectively.
The tobacco groups won the first stage in the battle against the graphic warnings in November 2011 after U.S. District Court presided by Judge Richard Leon issued a temporary injunction putting a hold on the requirement, on grounds that tobacco companies were likely to win the litigation challenging the mandate as unconstitutional.
Judge Leon then canceled the warning labels requirement in a February 2012 ruling confirming that they are unconstitutional and infringe the First Amendment rights of the tobacco companies.
The FDA said it would conduct research to support a new requirement in line with the Tobacco Control Act, though refusing to comment on a timeline for the launch of the reviewed labels, according to the Associated Press.