Graphic warnings blocked by judge

A federal judge has blocked a US Food and Drug Administration rule challenged by cigarette manufacturers that would require graphic health warnings on cigarette packs and in cigarette advertising, Reuters reported.

US District Judge J. Campbell Barker in Tyler, Texas, ruled on 7 December that the regulation, which was to take effect next October, violated the companies’ rights under the First Amendment of the US Constitution by compelling speech.
The FDA declined to comment. Lawyers for the companies – which include R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co, ITG Brands LLC and Liggett Group LLC – did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The disputed rule, finalised by the FDA in March 2020, would require the use of 11 graphic images, such as images of diseased feet with amputated toes that show possible consequences of cigarette smoking. The warnings must occupy the top 50 per cent of the front and back of cigarette packages and the top 20 per cent of ads.
The tobacco companies sued in April 2020 to block the rule as unconstitutional compelled speech, saying it required them to promote an anti-smoking message, the report said. Barker agreed, granting them summary judgment. He said that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1985 ruling in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the government can require commercial speech if it is accurate, purely factual and uncontroversial. However, he said images, by their nature cannot be purely factual. “The image may convey one thing to one person and a different thing to another,” he said. He also said that some of the images could be understood to convey factual claims that may not be accurate. For example, an image of a person with a scar from open-heart surgery could be understood to suggest that such surgery was the most common treatment for smoking-related heart disease, for which the FDA had not offered any evidence. “The imagery in the warnings here is provocative,” the judge wrote. “As to each warning, it is not beyond reasonable probability that consumers would take from it a value-laden message that smoking is a mistake.”

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