Feds Abandon Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels [Updated]

FDA to research a new approach

The Food and Drug Administration is backing down from its controversial cigarette warning labels that landed it in court on First Amendment grounds, according to an Associated Press report

Instead of fighting in court for the nine graphically scary pictures of blackened lungs and corpses, the FDA will try a different approach, according to a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder obtained by the AP. The government will also not seek a Supreme Court review of the case.

Since the labels were proposed two years ago to persuade people to quit smoking, the nation’s largest tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco lawyered up by hiring the nation's top First Amendment attorneys and managed to halt implementation of the warning labels in the lower courts.

Advertisers sided with the tobacco companies and filed a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court to hear the case to resolve rulings from two lower courts. 

Advertisers argued the labels weren’t factual, and were nothing less than government propaganda turning cigarette packages into mini-billboards that took up more than half of the space on the package. 

"We're pleased the FDA took a hard look at the D.C. Circuit Court's decision," said Dan Jaffe, evp for the Association of National Advertisers, which actively fought the labels. "But it's a far cry from the end of the road. The law passed by Congress calls for warning labels to take up 50 percent of the package and 20 percent of the ad and that will always raise First Amendment questions no matter what they come up with."

Despite the setback, the government remains committed to finding ways to reduce tobacco use, responsible for more than 440,000 deaths annually. In a statement, the FDA said it would conduct research “to support a new rulemaking consistent with the Tobacco Control Act.” 

"Although we pushed forcefully for graphic health warning labels to appear on cigarette packages, the D.C. Circuit's ruling against the warning labels won't deter the FDA from seeking an effective and sound way to implement the law," said Dr. Howard Koh, the assistant secretary of health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.





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