Supreme Court Rejects Tobacco Industry Challenge to FDA Regulation

Leaves in place ruling upholding Family Smoking Prevention & Tobacco Control Act

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a tobacco industry challenge to a 2009 federal law that required graphic warning labels on cigarettes and expanded marketing restrictions on tobacco products, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The challengers, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co., argued that parts of the law, which gave the U.S. Food & Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco, violated their constitutional free-speech rights.

The law mandated that tobacco manufacturers allow half of the space on the front and back of cigarette packages for graphic health warnings. It also barred marketing practices like cigarette-brand sponsorships of sporting or cultural events.

The companies said the provisions burdened their protected right to communicate with adults about their products.

A Cincinnati-based federal appeals court upheld most of the law last year, citing the government's interest in consumer awareness about the health risks from smoking. The Supreme Court, in a short written order, let that ruling stand, denying the industry appeal without comment.

Even with Monday's developments, it could be years before new graphic warning labels actually appear on U.S. cigarettes, said the report. Federal courts in Washington have struck down the FDA's proposed content for the warning labels, which would have included pictures of diseased lungs and dead bodies.

Those courts said the FDA did not present any data showing that its specific graphic warnings would accomplish its goal of reducing smoking rates. The Obama administration said last month it would not mount a further legal defense of the labels, leaving the agency to consider new proposals.

The FDA will go through the federal rule-making process required for any new cigarette warnings. It usually takes years for federal rules to be written and implemented.

The justices on Monday left in place a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that upheld the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention & Tobacco Control Act that, for the first time, gave the federal government authority to regulate tobacco. The challenged rules include a ban on tobacco companies sponsoring athletic, social and cultural events or offering free samples or branded merchandise.

The industry said the law impermissibly limited its "truthful, non-misleading" marketing of its products to adult consumers.

The Obama administration urged the court to turn away the appeal and said the lower court ruling was correct.

The case is American Snuff v. United States.