U.S. District Judge rejects Cigarette Package Guidelines

U.S. District Judge rejects Cigarette Package Guidelines

The U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington has blocked the federal requirement, which would have compelled the U.S. tobacco companies to change their cigarette packaging this year. The federal request favours putting of large graphic images on cigarette packages to encourage smokers to quit smoking.

The judge ruled that the images to be put on cigarette pack as mandated by the federal include a picture of diseased lungs and a sewn-up corpse of a smoker, which violates the free speech amendment to the Constitution.

Prior to this, Judge Richard Leon had temporarily blocked the requirement in November stating that it was likely cigarette makers will succeed in a lawsuit, which could take years to resolve. The government has already appealed to that decision.

I want to live not to die

The constitutionality of the labels had been questioned by some of the giant U.S. tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. saying “The warnings don’t simply convey facts to inform people’s decision whether to smoke but instead force the cigarette makers to display government anti-smoking advocacy more prominently than their own branding.” They also pointed that changing the cigarette packaging will cost them millions of dollars.

However, the Food and Drug Administration has said that the public interest has more value than the companies’ free speech rights. So, conveying the hazards of smoking in public interest outweighs the free speech rights of the tobacco companies.

On Wednesday, Leon in his ruling wrote that the graphic images “were neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks; rather, they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking.”

Violates Cigarette Packages

“While the line between the constitutionally permissible dissemination of factual information and the impermissible expropriation of a company’s advertising space for government advocacy can be frustratingly blurry, here the line seems quite clear,” Judge Richard Leon wrote.

He also highlighted and suggested other alternative measures to federal government for curbing use of the tobacco. These measures included increasing raising tobacco taxes, reducing the size and changing content of the labels, anti-smoking advertisements and improving efforts to reduce youth access to tobacco products.

The Justice Department and FDA declined to comment on the ruling on Wednesday. However, a lawyer representing Lorillard in the case, Floyd Abrams was pleased by the ruling. “The government, as the court said, is free to speak for itself, but it may not, except in the rarest circumstance, require others to mouth its position,” said Mr. Abrams.

“While the government, public health officials, tobacco companies and others’ share a responsibility to provide tobacco consumers with accurate information about the various health risks associated with smoking … the goal of informing the public about the risks of tobacco use can and should be accomplished consistent with the U.S. Constitution,” said Mr. Martin L. Holton III, executive vice president and general counsel for R.J. Reynolds.

On the other hand, the president of the Campaign for tobacco-free kids, Mr. Matthew L. Myer called the ruling of the Leon as “wrong on the science and the law.”

“(The warnings) unequivocally tell the truth about cigarette smoking — that it is addictive, harms children, causes fatal lung disease, cancer, strokes and heart disease, and can kill you. What isn’t factual or accurate about these warnings? Not even the tobacco industry disputes these facts,” Myers said.

The colour images of a man exhaling cigarette smoke through a tracheotomy hole in his throat; a pair of diseased lungs next to a pair of healthy lungs; a plume of cigarette smoke enveloping an infant receiving a mother’s kiss; a man breathing into an oxygen mask; a cadaver on a table with post-autopsy chest staples; a woman weeping; a diseased mouth afflicted with what appears to be cancerous lesions; a premature baby in an incubator; and a man wearing a T-shirt that features a “No Smoking” symbol and the words “I Quit” are the nine images approved by the FDA in June.

According to the requirement of the FDA, the labels were to b put on the entire half of cigarette packs on both the sides along with number of hotline for encouraging the smoker to stop-smoking. And only 20% of each label was supposed to constitute cigarette advertising. The marketers were said to rotate the use of the images on the labels.

The Commonwealth Brands Inc., Liggett Group LLC and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc. supported the North Carolina-based R.J. Reynolds, owned by Reynolds American Inc., and Lorillard Tobacco, owned by Lorillard Inc. by joining them in the lawsuit. Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc., parent company of the nation’s largest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA that manufactures the top-selling cigarette brand Marlboro is not a part of the lawsuit.

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