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Court: Cigarette Warning Rule Stands

MedPageToday, 2012

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court has upheld the FDA's authority to regulate tobacco products, including a requirement that cigarette makers emblazon their products with graphic warning images.
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision issued Monday, backed an earlier that largely affirmed the FDA's authority to regulate tobacco products.
The appeals court ruled that requiring cigarette packs to contain graphic images and text warnings of the health risks of smoking is aimed at protecting consumer health, and is therefore constitutional.
These include rotting teeth, diseased lungs, a baby enveloped in smoke, and a body on an autopsy table.
Tobacco companies are suing the FDA over these requirements in two separate cases, arguing that the new regulations violate the companies' First Amendment rights.
Although Monday's ruling did not specifically address the nine images the FDA is proposing for use, it wrote that warning images in general are necessary because it's clear the public doesn't adequately understand the risks of smoking.
"Ample evidence establishes that current warnings do not effectively inform consumers of the health risks of tobacco use and that consumers do not understand these risks," the court wrote, adding that the plaintiff's products "literally kill users."
"Against this backdrop, the Act requires graphic and textual warnings that convey the factual health risks of smoking to provide consumers with truthful information as they make decisions about purchasing and using tobacco products," the court ruled.
In a dissenting opinion, one of the Sixth Circuit judges wrote the requirement that a company's product carry a large scale color graphic warning "is simply unprecedented."
The court also upheld the 2009 law's provisions banning tobacco companies from marketing their products as "light;" from sponsoring social, sporting, and entertainment events; from producing clothing with cigarette logos; and from distributing free cigarettes.
Marking a small victory for tobacco companies, Monday's ruling upheld the Kentucky court's ruling that tobacco companies were allowed to use color in their advertising.