September 13th, 2011
FDA Defends New Graphic Cigarette Labels
Wall Street Journal, Law Blog
The Food and Drug Administration has responded to claims from cigarette makers that new graphic-warning labels due to take effect next year violate tobacco companies’ free speech rights.
The federally-mandated labels, which must occupy the top half of the front and back of a cigarette pack, are due to include images such as a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his neck and will be accompanied by such messages as “Smoking can kill you.” (Click here for WSJ background on the warning labels.)
Last month, four U.S. tobacco companies filed suit in Washington, D.C. federal court claiming that the graphic labels are an unconstitutional way of forcing tobacco companies to spread the government’s anti-smoking message. “The notion that the government can require those who manufacture a lawful product to emblazon half of its package with pictures and words admittedly drafted to persuade the public not to purchase that product cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny,” Lorillard attorney Floyd Abrams told WSJ at the time.
In its opposition brief filed Friday, the FDA claims that the federal government has the authority to regulate commercial speech in cases of public interest, The BLT blog reports. The FDA contends that the new graphic-warning labels are better at conveying the health risks of smoking than the current written warning labels, according to BLT.
The U.S. is following more than 40 countries that have already put graphic warnings on cigarettes, WSJ reports. Many of those warnings are far more explicit than those the U.S. chose, including gangrenous limbs and drooping cigarettes warning of erectile dysfunction.
A court hearing on the case has been set for September 21.