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Judge Holds Tobacco Health Warnings as Unconstitutional
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U.S District Judge Richard Leon, while deciding a challenge by cigarette makers against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s rule of portraying negative visuals of tobacco use. The plaintiffs claimed that the requirement to label tobacco products with images of diseased lungs and rotting teeth etcetera intended to illustrate the dangers of smoking contravenes rights under the First Amendment.

Judge Leon said “The government has failed to carry both its burden of demonstrating a compelling interest and its burden of demonstrating that the rule is narrowly tailored to achieve a constitutionally permissible form of compelled commercial speech.”

Last year, the judge had granted a prima facie injunction preventing the new label requirements from coming into effect in 2012. The Federal government has already challenged the injunction in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.


The judge held in his judgment that while it might be compelling to educate the public on problems caused by smoking; a simple interest to advocate that the public not buy a product, which is legal and taxed, is untenable.

The 19-page ruling mentioned that the warning labels required by new rules were too large to pass constitutional muster, and the government has many alternative tools at its disposal to deter smoking such as raising taxes on cigarettes, or including factual information rather than promote gruesome images.

In 2009, Congress passed the law directing FDA to put into effect the label regulation that requires color warning labels to cover the major portion of a cigarette pack’s front and back panels, and the top 20 percent space in tobacco advertisements.

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Following the first change in U.S. cigarette warning labels in 25 years, the FDA released nine new warnings intended to go into effect in September 2012.

The judgment said, “Unfortunately, because Congress did not consider the First Amendment implications of this legislation, it did not concern itself with how the regulations could be narrowly tailored to avoid unintentionally compelling commercial speech… “

Martin Holton, the general counsel for R.J. Reynolds said, “We believe governments, public health officials, tobacco manufacturers and others share a responsibility to provide tobacco consumers with accurate information about the various health risks associated with smoking…. However, the goal of informing the public about the risks of tobacco use can and should be accomplished consistent with the U.S. Constitution.”


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