Federal Judge Blocks Warning Images on Cigarette Packs

November 10, 2011

In accordance with the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, the FDA has designed several new graphic warning labels for cigaratte packs, such as the one shown here. Credit: FDA.

Until the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration had the authority to regulate the safety of everyday items such as cold medicine and cookies, but had no authority over tobacco. Passage of the Tobacco Control Act finally gave the FDA certain regulatory powers over tobacco, including the power to establish new labeling requirements on cigarette packs. The law was set to go into effect in September 2012, and cigarette packs were going to have graphic warnings labels about the dangers of smoking including images of diseased lungs, severe gum disease and a body on an autopsy table. However, a district court ruling from earlier this week threatens to derail that timeline. Tobacco companies, including Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds, had sued the FDA in August, claiming that the mandated graphic warning labels violate the companies' right to free speech, as protected by the First Amendment. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled this week that requiring tobacco companies to display these warnings does indeed violate the First Amendment. Judge Leon concluded that the government lacked the power to compel the speech (in the form of the graphic warnings) because the images, coupled with messages prompting consumers to call 1-800-QUITNOW, do not serve an informative purpose, but rather attempt to persuade customers to take - or not take - a certain action. Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and it claims more than 443,000 American lives each year. For 20 years, the Reform Movement has placed Judaism's preeminent concern for the health and well being of the human body at the center of our efforts to reduce tobacco use. The Union for Reform Judaism resolved in 1987 to take steps to diminish the amount of cigarette smoking within our own movement because of the belief that "Jewish tradition enjoins us to cherish life, nurture it, preserve it, and protect it." In 2006, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism passed a resolution that strongly supported the ability of the FDA to regulate tobacco products. The next step in this litigation remains unclear at this moment, but one can only hope that the FDA will appeal the district court ruling and be allowed to fully exercise its new regulatory powers to protect Americans from the addictive and poisonous ingredients found in tobacco products. Photo courtesy of the FDA.

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