Cigarette label
Thailand is one of 43 countries where cigarette packages must contain a graphic warning label. Image: Flickr /timquijano/ CC-BY

In a ruling issued today, a Washington judge temporarily blocked new FDA-mandated cigarette warning labels. The ruling means that until a final constitutional ruling has been issued, cigarette manufacturers will not be required to put the graphic images on packs of cigarettes.

FDA-mandated warning labels

The new FDA-mandated warning labels were due to be on all cigarette packs by Sept. 22, 2012. The mandate would have required one of several graphic images to be included on more than 50 percent of all cigarette packs and rotated through at least 20 percent of all print ads. The photographs include images of diseased lungs, mouth cancer and a mother expelling smoke into a baby’s face. The goal of the warning labels is to graphically illustrate the results of smoking in an effort to reduce smoking rates.

Tobacco companies claim compelled speech

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Commonwealth Brands Inc. Liggett Group and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. claimed that the FDA’s new requirements constituted compelled speech. Compelled speech is speech required that the speaker does not necessarily agree with. The First Amendment protects individuals against being compelled to say something they do not agree with. In 43 countries, large, graphic warnings similar to the ones the FDA wants to require are already featured on cigarette packs. Canada also requires these graphic warnings.

A question of facts

The reason for the injunction against this requirement is because the judge does not feel that the requirements are “purely factual and uncontroversial disclosures.” In short, the judge thinks the graphic depictions of the effects of smoking are not factual.

“It is abundantly clear from viewing these images that the emotional response they were crafted to induce is calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never to start smoking — an objective wholly apart from disseminating purely factual and uncontroversial information,” wrote the judge in his opinion.


USA Today:
First Amendment Center:

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