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Federal Judge Blocks New, Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels

Posted On: 11/11/2011

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FDA cigarette packaging rule, Food and Drug Administration, cigarette vending, vending machine business, tobacco products labeling, cigarette pack warnings, tobacco and free speech, RR.J. Reynolds, Lorillard Inc., Liggett Group LLC, Commonwealth Brands Inc., Imperial Tobacco Group Plc

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 7 was subjected to a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, blocking FDA requirements for tobacco companies to print extremely graphic warning images on cigarette packaging beginning in September, 2012.

In 2009, Congress put the FDA in charge of regulating tobacco sales and mandated that the FDA must require the new labels.

The FDA had planned to force cigarette makers and marketers to emulate regulations similar to those currently seen in other countries, where packages feature large color photos of diseased organs, a smoker exhaling smoke through a hole in his throat, and the like. | SEE FDA ANNOUNCEMENT

But after last June's FDA announcement of a rule imposing the new warning labels, three leading tobacco companies filed suit, charging that the policy would violate their free speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Plaintiffs included 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. | SEE STORY

Tobacco companies argued that they are selling a legal substance and cannot lawfully be forced to engage in "advocacy" against the use of their own product. The Obama administration has argued that an overwhelming public interest in reducing tobacco use should override commercial free speech rights in this instance.

Judge Leon said he issued the TRO because he believed the plaintiffs are likely to win their constitutional argument against the federal government. Observers said the case could eventually go to the U.S. Supreme Court.