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Federal judge rules tobacco warning label requirements unconstitutional

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; order, PDF] Wednesday that a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] regulation [text] requiring cigarette packaging and advertisements to display more prominent graphic health warning labels [materials] is unconstitutional, issuing a permanent injunction. The regulation mandating nine new warning signs, initially set to take effect in September 2012, was deemed a violation of the tobacco companies' First Amendment rights. Rather, Judge Richard Leon suggested less restrictive alternatives to the warnings to convey the repercussions of smoking to the public. His suggestions include increasing anti-smoking advertisements, raising cigarette taxes, improving efforts to prevent unlawful sale to minors or changing display requirements. In his ruling, Leon wrote:

This Court is acutely aware of the health risks of smoking. And although the Government may want to convince consumers to stop smoking to protect their health, plaintiffs are correct in stating that their industry should not "serve as the government's unwilling spokesman in that paternalistic endeavor."
The ruling follows a preliminary injunction issued by Leon last November, which is currently being appealed [JURIST reports] by the FDA. The FDA is also expected to appeal Wednesday's decision.

US President Barack Obama [official website] signed [JURIST report] the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text] into law in 2009, granting the FDA certain authority to regulate manufactured tobacco products. The legislation heightens warning-label requirements, prohibits marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allows for the regulation of cigarette ingredients. The proposed implementation of new tobacco warning labels has also drawn criticism abroad. In Australia, Philip Morris has filed a complaint [JURIST report] to block new graphic warning label requirements [AUS Health Dept. backgrounder] recently enacted in that country.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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