Tobacco

Tobacco Cos. Sue FDA

Cigarette makers challenge new graphic labeling rules

WASHINGTON -- Four big cigarette makers have sued the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), seeking to void as unconstitutional new graphic labels and advertising that warn consumers about the risks of smoking and induce them to quit, reported Reuters.

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.[image-nocss]

They said this violates their free speech rights under the First Amendment, according to a complaint filed Tuesday with the U.S. District Court in Washington.

"The notion that the government can require those who manufacture a lawful product to emblazon half of its package with pictures and words admittedly drafted to persuade the public not to purchase that product cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny," said Abrams, a partner in the New York law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel, who is representing Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard. "The government can engage in as much anti-smoking advocacy as it chooses in whatever language and with whatever pictures it chooses; it cannot force those who lawfully sell tobacco to the public to carry that message, those words, and those pictures."

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention & Tobacco Control Act requires color warnings covering the top half of the front and back panels of cigarette packages, and the top 20% of printed advertising. Dead bodies, diseased lungs and rotting teeth are among the images expected to appear, in the first change to U.S. cigarette warnings in 25 years (click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage).The cigarette companies are the largest in the United States other than Altria Group Inc, whose brands include Marlboro and which is not part of the case. Altria had previously supported the 2009 law. "Certain provisions of the final rule raise constitutional concerns," Altria spokesperson Bill Phelps said. "We continue to work constructively with the FDA, and reserve our rights and options to protect the company."
In their complaint, the cigarette companies said the labels illegally force them to make consumers "depressed, discouraged and afraid" to buy cigarettes, and turn each package into a "mini-billboard" for the government.

The case is R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co et al v. FDA, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 11-01482.

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