Federal appeals court strikes down FDA tobacco warning label law

Proposed FDA warning labels for cigarette packages.

Story highlights

  • Measure would have required written warnings, graphic images on tobacco products
  • Tobacco companies sued, saying the warnings would be costly, damage brand promotion
  • In a 2-1 ruling, appeals court panel says the law would violate free speech protections
  • In dissent, judge cites "health risks of smoking to adolescent would-be smokers"
A government mandate requiring tobacco companies to place graphic images on their products warning of the dangers of smoking was tossed out Friday by a divided federal appeals court, with the majority saying the requirements were a violation of free speech protections.
The Food and Drug Administration was ordered to immediately revise its rules.
"The First Amendment requires the government not only to state a substantial interest justifying a regulation on commercial speech, but also to show that its regulation directly advances that goal," wrote Judge Janice Rogers Brown. "FDA failed to present any data -- much less the substantial evidence required under the federal law -- showing that enacting their proposed graphic warnings will accomplish the agency's stated objective of reducing smoking rates. The rule thus cannot pass muster" under past court precedent.
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 brands. The legal question was whether the new labeling was purely factual and accurate in nature or was designed to discourage use of the products.