WASHINGTON A U.S. judge on Tuesday set a September hearing on the tobacco industry's request to block Food and Drug Administration requirements for new graphic labels and advertising that warn consumers about the risks of smoking.
Judge Richard Leon ordered a quick September 21 hearing on the industry's request for a preliminary injunction, despite objections by the Obama administration, which argued that the companies would not suffer irreparable harm without it.
With the September hearing, Leon said he hoped to have a decision sometime in October. He warned the parties that he had a full calendar of trials over the next several months, making it harder to fit the tobacco case into his schedule.
Any decision by Leon is likely to be appealed.
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, saying they are unconstitutional.
The labels are part of a 2009 law passed by Congress that requires color warnings on the cigarette packages and on printed advertising. The industry says the warnings, due to go into effect by September 2012, force them to "engage in anti-smoking advocacy" on the government's behalf.
They 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.
The case is R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co et al v. FDA, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 11-01482.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)