Philadelphia to Go Graphic?

Deadline arrives for testifying about displaying tobacco health warnings at retail

Linda Abu-Shalback Zid, Senior Editor

PHILADELPHIA -- As a lawsuit unfolds against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the upcoming use of graphic images to convey the potential dangers of cigarette smoking, Philadelphia is considering its own graphic image signs--which tobacco retailers will be required to post at the point of sale. And retailers have until 4:00 p.m. EST today, Friday, August 19, to submit intent to testify or provide written testimony.

Four big cigarette makers have sued the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), seeking to void as unconstitutional new graphic labels [image-nocss] and advertising that warn consumers about the risks of smoking and induce them to quit. The lawsuit by 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, said the warnings required no later than September 22, 2012, would force cigarette makers to "engage in anti-smoking advocacy" on the government's behalf. They said this violates their free speech rights under the First Amendment.

(Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage of the FDA's new cigarette warning labels and the tobacco companies' lawsuit.)

According to a letter obtained by CSP Daily News from Giridhar Mallya, director of policy and planning, to stakeholders, the signs being considered by the Philadelphia Board of Health would contain: Information about cigarettes and noncigarette tobacco products and the adverse health effects resulting from use. A pictorial or graphic image showing the adverse health effects of cigarettes and noncigarette tobacco product use. Information about how to get help for individuals interested in quitting. Signage would be designed and produced by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and would be at no cost to the retailer. If passed, posting of the signs would be required by July 1, 2012.

According to a "Frequently Asked Questions" document attached to the letter, the signs would be approximately 256 square inches and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health will collaborate with public health experts to design signs that "effectively convey" the adverse health consequences of tobacco use.

"At this time, there are no specifics about the exact content of these signs. Some individuals may find disease and adverse health consequences of tobacco use difficult to look at, but in all instances pictures or graphics used will represent accurate depictions of the adverse health consequences of tobacco use," it said.

The penalty for noncompliance will be $250, and each day of noncompliance will constitute a separate violation.

Retailers who intend to provide written testimony or to testify at the public hearing to be held Thursday, September 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia should e-mail their names and business/organizations (if applicable), and include a statement indicating that intent to[email protected] by 4:00 p.m. EST today.