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D.C. Circuit hears graphic tobacco label case

FDA asks court to undo district court’s decision finding labels unconstitutional

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried to persuade the D.C. Circuit to undo a district court ruling finding that the agency’s new controversial tobacco labels are unconstitutional.

At the end of February, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that the FDA’s requirement that tobacco companies include graphic labels on cigarette packaging violates the companies’ free speech rights. But the FDA contends that the labels in question—which feature disconcerting images of rotting teeth, diseased lungs, a man smoking through a hole in his throat and more—accurately depict the risks of smoking and are a vital warning to consumers.

“Adolescents notoriously underestimate their ability to resist addiction,” a Justice Department lawyer representing the FDA told the D.C. Circuit. “Do [these labels] accurately and realistically depict the message that this is really addictive? Yes, [they] do.”

Congress gave FDA the authority to regulate the tobacco industry, including its labeling rules, in 2009. The agency requires color warning labels to cover the top half of a cigarette package’s front and back panels, as well as the top 20 percent of print ads. The FDA released its nine new graphic warning designs in June 2011, and a group of big tobacco companies promptly sued the agency, claiming the new regulations violate their First Amendment rights. The labels are scheduled to go into effect this September.

Read Thomson Reuters for more details on yesterday’s arguments.

Ashley Post

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