US judge blocks anti-smoking images required on tobacco products

Thursday, 8 March 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

WASHINGTON (CNN): A federal mandate requiring tobacco companies to place graphic images on their products warning of the dangers of smoking was tossed out Wednesday by a judge in Washington, with the judge saying the requirements were a violation of free speech.

“Unfortunately, because Congress did not consider the First Amendment implications of this legislation, it did not concern itself with how the regulations could be narrowly tailored to avoid unintentionally compelling commercial speech,” said federal Judge Richard Leon in his 19-page ruling.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act passed in 2009 would have required nine written warnings such as ‘Cigarettes are addictive’ and ‘Tobacco smoke causes harm to children.’ Also included would have been alternating images of a corpse and smoke-infected lungs.

A group of tobacco companies led by R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard had sued, saying the warnings would be cost-prohibitive, and would dominate and damage the packaging and promotion of their particular brands. The legal question was whether the new labelling was purely factual and accurate in nature or was designed to discourage use of the products.

“The graphic images here were neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks” said Leon. “Rather they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking.”

Other colour images required under the Food and Drug Administration rules would have been: a man smoking through a tracheotomy hole in his throat, smoke wafting from a child being kissed by her mother, a diseased mouth presumably from oral cancer linked to chewing tobacco and a woman weeping uncontrollably.

There was no immediate reaction to the ruling from the FDA, and the Justice Department, which defended the law in court, said it had no comment.