Cigarette makers, FDA clash over new graphic ads

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 21, 2011 5:22pm EDT

New graphic cigarette packaging, released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration June 21, 2011, shows a varied collection of dead bodies, diseased lungs and a man on a ventilator were among the graphic images for revamped U.S. tobacco labels, unveiled by health officials who hope the warnings will help smokers quit. REUTERS/U.S. Food and Drug Administration/Handout

New graphic cigarette packaging, released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration June 21, 2011, shows a varied collection of dead bodies, diseased lungs and a man on a ventilator were among the graphic images for revamped U.S. tobacco labels, unveiled by health officials who hope the warnings will help smokers quit.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. Food and Drug Administration/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cigarette makers clashed with regulators in U.S. federal court over new graphic labels and advertising that use pictures of rotting teeth and diseased lungs to warn consumers about the risks of smoking.

The tobacco industry asked Judge Richard Leon on Wednesday for a temporary injunction to block the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's requirement for the labels, pending a final decision on whether the labels are constitutional.

The Obama administration argued, however, that the companies would not suffer irreparable harm without a preliminary injunction.

The labels are part of a 2009 law passed by Congress that requires color warnings on cigarette packages and on printed advertising, which already carry text warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General.

The industry says the new graphic warnings, due to go into effect by September 2012, force them to "engage in anti-smoking advocacy" on the government's behalf.

"Never before has the government required the maker of a lawful product to tell consumers not to buy it," said Noel Francisco, a lawyer arguing on behalf of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

"The government can tell people how to live," said Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment specialist also representing the tobacco industry. "But they can't force people who sell tobacco to be their mouthpieces."


Francisco said the pictures were chosen for their shock value, and not because they reduced the rate of smoking or better informed consumers about its dangers.

"If you tell people what they already know over and over again, in flashy letters and big color pictures, it doesn't cause a reduction in smoking," he said.

Reynolds American Inc's R.J. Reynolds unit, Lorillard Inc , Liggett Group LLC and Commonwealth Brands Inc, owned by Britain's Imperial Tobacco Group Plc, sued the FDA over the labels.

They have argued they need a quick ruling because they would have to start in November or December and spend millions of dollars to comply with the requirements. Justice Department attorneys said the money was a small fraction of the companies' net sales.

Government attorneys also said the graphic labels conveyed the dangers of smoking more effectively than words alone, and were necessary to stop more people from smoking, especially teenagers.

"The government's interest here is not in preventing habits, it's in preventing death," said Mark Stern, a Justice Department attorney. "The advocacy here is to convey the negative health consequences of smoking. That's what Congress directed the FDA to do."

"The Constitution doesn't limit Congress to conveying information in a text-only format," he added, when Judge Leon questioned how far the government could go in presenting its message.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 46 million U.S. adults, or 20.6 percent, smoke cigarettes. There has been little change in the percentage since 2004.

More than 221,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011, according to the American Cancer Society. Tobacco is expected to kill nearly 6 million people worldwide in 2011, including 600,000 nonsmokers, the World Health Organization said in May.

Leon said he hoped to have a ruling on the preliminary injunction by the end of October, although any decision is likely to be appealed.

The case is R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co et al v. FDA, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 11-01482.

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Comments (4)
Soutane wrote:
We`ve had those pictures smeared all over cigarette packages in Canada for years.People who smoke (i.e.those addicted to the drug that cigarettes supply through the complicitness of government)simply ignore them.I know NO ONE who smokes retail purchased cigarettes at eighty to ninety dollars for a carton of 200 cigarettes(they`d be stupid to do so) when you can purchase black market ones for twenty bucks or go to the Indian Reservation and buy them direct.They come in plastic bags with no advertising on them.They are known locally as Natives.

I quit smoking after 40 years because I DECIDED to.It was the hardest thing I have EVER done in my life.Smokers are not bad they are for the most part addicted drug addicts.It is NOT about willpower,it is about a drug more addictive and harder to break than heroin.Pictures might put off some young people considering smoking but how many kids do you see actually doing it-not many.They have been discouraged since birth and fear ostracism by their own peers(not PARENTS) for doing something so stupid.

Smoking is stupid and the response to it is as stupid as you can scare some of the people some of the time.People are already scared.And addicted.Would you pay to have someone put hundreds of harmful chemicals into your body-smokers will-just like Meth heads do.They are slaves to their drug.

Sep 21, 2011 11:03pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
annecink wrote:
Just yesterday, I saw an ad that must be a part of this anti-smoking campaign. A doctor is supposedly holding a smoker’s heart artery in his hands. He squeezes it and a thick, fatty substance oozes out. Ewwww!

Sep 22, 2011 7:10am EDT  --  Report as abuse
scottm1207a wrote:
When the neo-commies agree to put these similar warnings on the packages for needles for the drug addicts they provide clean needles to in the needle-exchange programs they’ve established, then I’ll take them seriously.

Sep 22, 2011 8:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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