U.S. District Judge Richard Leon has blocked a federal requirement that would have begun forcing U.S. tobacco companies to put large graphic images on their cigarette packages later this year to show the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit lighting up. In his ruling Judge Leon states that the federal mandate to put the images, which include a sewn-up corpse of a smoker and a picture of diseased lungs, on cigarette packs violates the free speech amendment to the Constitution.
Judge Leon wrote that the graphic images:
“[W]ere neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks; rather, they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking. While the line between the constitutionally permissible dissemination of factual information and the impermissible expropriation of a company’s advertising space for government advocacy can be frustratingly blurry, here the line seems quite clear.”
While some of the largest U.S. tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co., had questioned the constitutionality of the labels, and are happy with the ruling, the Food and Drug Administration has said that the public interest in conveying the dangers of smoking outweighs the companies’ free speech rights.
Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called Leon’s ruling “wrong on the science and the law.”
“(The warnings) unequivocally tell the truth about cigarette smoking – that it is addictive, harms children, causes fatal lung disease, cancer, strokes and heart disease, and can kill you. What isn’t factual or accurate about these warnings? Not even the tobacco industry disputes these facts,” Myers said in a statement.
While the tobacco industry’s latest legal challenge may not hold up, it could delay the new warning labels for years. And that is likely to save cigarette makers millions of dollars in lost sales and increased packaging costs.
Do you agree with the court’s ruling? Should graphic warning labels be on cigarette packages?