Federal court of Appeals upheld a ruling prohibiting the federal government from obliging cigarette manufacturers to place grievous health warning labels on cigarette packs depicting severe health complications associated with smoking.
Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals confirmed the previous decision that federal government’s requirement violates commercial free speech protection, granted by the First Amendment, with a 2-1 vote. The court dismissed the requirement and requested that the Food and Drug Administration draft new warnings.
Several of the nation’s leading tobacco groups, led by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., contested the requirement to modify health warnings to depict the health risks related to smoking and promote smoking cessation. The companies argued that the new warnings overstepped factual information turning into anti-smoking banners. The FDA claimed that images of dead corpse and rotten teeth and gums are factual.
The nine health warning labels developed by the FDA encompass image of a man exhaling tobacco smoke using a hole in the throat, and other grueling, scary images, which accompanied by statements saying that smoking results in cancer and other diseases. The labels were set to cover a half of pack, and provide the Quitline number.
The court ruled that the case gives raise to “unexplored questions about the frames of the federal government’s authority to oblige the maker of a product to step over from providing only factual and precise commercial information and undermine its own commercial interest – in the given case, by turning ‘every cigarette pack selling across the country into billboard’ for the federal government’s anti-smoking advertisements.”
The court also mentioned that the FDA has not supported its position with reliable evidence that the graphic warnings will virtually help its objective of reducing the smoking rate among American population.
Cigarette manufacturers increasingly use packaging to promote brand loyalty and win new customers, as it is one of a handful of advertising means available for them after the federal government banned or severely restricted advertisements on TV, magazines and billboards.
“It’s a considerable acknowledgement of First Amendment principles,” declared Floyd Abrams, a lawyer, who represented Lorillard Tobacco. “We never doubted the government’s authority to demand warnings on products associated with health risks. However, what the court ruled is that there are actual scopes on the capability of the government to oblige the maker of a legal product to criticize the product while attempting to sell it.”
The FDA refused to comment on the lawsuit and the Department of Department admitted it would review the decision of the court of appeals. Anti-smoking advocates are trying to convince the government to appeal the ruling.
Among the plaintiffs there were, R.J. Reynolds, owned by Reynolds American, Lorillard Tobacco, Commonwealth Brands Inc., Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc and Liggett Group LLC and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc.
Altria Group Inc., owner of the nation’s leading cigarette manufacturer, Philip Morris USA, which makes the best-selling Marlboro brand, did not participate in the lawsuit.