Judge: FDA's new cigarette warnings violate First Amendment

By John O'Brien | Feb 29, 2012


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Graphic warning labels imposed by the federal government on tobacco products violate the First Amendment, a federal court in Washington, D.C., has ruled.

West Virginia was one of 21 states to join the brief.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on Wednesday ruled in favor of five tobacco manufacturers that challenged the labels, which displayed graphic imagines like diseased lungs and a cadaver bearing chest staples on an autopsy table. The companies argued the images were an unconstitutional means of forcing them to distribute the government's anti-smoking message.

A preliminary injunction against the labels had been granted by Leon. Wednesday, he granted the companies' motion for summary judgment.

"(A)lthough the government contends that it has a compelling interest -- 'conveying to consumers generally and adolescents in particular, the devastating consequences of smoking and nicotine addiction,' -- its 'stated purpose does not seem to comport with the thrust of its arguments, or with the evidence it offers to support the rule,'" Leon wrote.

"To the contrary, it is clear that the government's actual purpose is not to inform or educate, but rather to advocate a change in behavior -- specifically to encourage smoking cessation and to discourage potential new smokers from starting."

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