Court snuffs out FDA rule on cig­a­rette-pack no­tices

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment can­not force to­bacco com­pa­nies to put large graphic images and anti-smok­ing warn­ings on their cig­a­rette pack­ages, a fed­eral judge ruled Wed­nes­day.

“Although an in­ter­est in in­form­ing or ed­u­cat­ing the public about the dan­gers of smok­ing might be com­pelling, an in­ter­est in sim­ply ad­vo­cat­ing that the public not pur­chase a le­gal prod­uct is not,” wrote U.S. Dis­trict Judge Richard J. Leon in the Dis­trict of Columbia.

Five to­bacco com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing R.J. Reynolds To­bacco Co., sued to block the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion rule, ar­gu­ing that it forced them to serve as an “un­will­ing mouth­piece” for the gov­ern­ment’s anti-smok­ing mes­sages.

Judge Leon al­ready had is­sued a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der against the FDA from im­ple­ment­ing its graphic health-warn­ings rule, and Wed­nes­day’s rul­ing on the law­suits makes the bar per­ma­nent.

The FDA de­clined to com­ment Wed­nes­day.

Dr. Robert W. Block, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics, con­demned the rul­ing.

“With 10 mil­lion cig­a­rettes sold ev­ery minute and al­most 3,000 chil­dren un­der the age of 18 start­ing to smoke each day, this rul­ing puts chil­dren’s lives at risk,” he said.

Congress passed a law in 2009 al­low­ing the FDA to add warn­ings about smok­ing on cig­a­rette pack­ages. The agency de­vel­oped nine warn­ings and images, in­clud­ing dis­eased lungs and a hu­man ca­daver, and in­structed to­bacco com­pa­nies to be­gin putting those images on the top halves of all cig­a­rette pack­ages be­gin­ning in Septem­ber.

A hot­line, 800/QUIT-NOW, was to be in­cluded on the la­bels too.

“Un­for­tu­nately, be­cause Congress did not con­sider the First Amend­ment im­pli­ca­tions of this leg­is­la­tion,” Judge Leon wrote, “it did not con­cern it­self with how the reg­u­la­tions could be nar­rowly tai­lored to avoid un­in­ten­tion­ally com­pelling com­mer­cial speech.”

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