U.S. District Judge Richard Leon has granted a stay for tobacco companies, who have sued to block the use of the labels, arguing they violate the companies’ First Amendment rights. Leon granted the stay, saying he believes the tobacco companies will win in their suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Until that case is tried, Leon ruled the labels cannot be used.
HHS proposed the new warning labels almost exactly one year ago. They were designed to have more impact than the text warnings that have appeared on cigarette packages since the mid 1960s. The proposed new labels were to appear on the top half of the package and include graphic – some might same gruesome images – designed to deter smokers.
The nine new labels included pictures of a diseased lung, a corpse, diseased gums and a man smoking through a hole in his throat.
Public response to the images was mixed. A ConsumerAffairs.com analysis of about 6,100 postings on Twitter, Facebook and other social media found opinion roughly evenly divided, although the number of comments was too small to draw any conclusions.
Health advocates protest
“The ruling ignores the overwhelming, decades-long need for strong cigarette warning labels and allows Big Tobacco to proceed ’business as usual,’ continuing to promote its addictive and deadly products,” said Christopher W. Hansen, President, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
“For decades, the tobacco industry has grown increasingly aggressive in preying upon America’s youth with misleading and fraudulent marketing practices, while the warning labels have not been changed in 25 years,” Hansen added. “Larger, graphic warning labels have the potential to encourage adults to quit smoking cigarettes and deter children from starting in the first place.”
“Judge Leon’s ruling ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence about the need for the new cigarette warnings and their effectiveness. It also ignores decades of First Amendment precedent that support the right of the government to require strong warning labels to protect the public health,” said Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Leading cause of death
In proposing the big change in warning labels, HHS pointed out that tobacco use is the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the United States — responsible for 443,000 deaths each year. Thirty percent of all cancer deaths are due to tobacco. Each day 1,200 lives of current and former smokers are lost prematurely due to tobacco-related diseases.
The government strategy included a proposal issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) titled “Required Warnings for Cigarette Packages and Advertisements.”
Specifically, it detailed a requirement of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that nine new larger and more noticeable textual warning statements and color graphic images depicting the negative health consequences of smoking appear on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements.
The final rule was to have gone into effect in September 2012, requiring all cigarettes sold in the U.S. to carry the enhanced warning.
Five cigarette companies filed suit in Washington last year, seeking to block the warnings. The industry’s lawyer argued that the government can require the tobacco companies to print a straightforward and “essentially uncontroversial” warning on the package, but said “turning cigarette packs into mini billboards for anti-smoking messages” crosses the line constitutionally.