Pictures: Judge Blocks Controversial Cigarette Warnings

| by Michael Allen

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon has blocked a federal requirement that would have forced tobacco companies to put graphic images, including dead and diseased smokers, on their cigarette packages (pictures below).

Judge Leon found the nine graphic images approved by the Food and Drug Administration (back in June) go beyond conveying the facts of smoking and into advocacy, a critical distinction in a case over free speech.

The packaging would have included color images of a man exhaling cigarette smoke through a tracheotomy hole in his throat, cigarette smoke enveloping an infant receiving a mother's kiss, a pair of diseased lungs next to a pair of healthy lungs, a diseased mouth afflicted with cancerous lesions, a man breathing into an oxygen mask, a cadaver on a table with post-autopsy chest staples, a woman weeping; a premature baby in an incubator and a man wearing a T-shirt that features a "No Smoking" symbol and the words "I Quit."

"It is abundantly clear from viewing these images that the emotional response they were crafted to induce is calculated to provoke the viewer to quit, or never to start smoking, an objective wholly apart from disseminating purely factual and uncontroversial information," Leon wrote in his 29-page opinion.

The judge also pointed out the size of the labels suggests they are unconstitutional. The FDA requirement said the labels were to cover the entire top half of cigarette packs, front and back and include a number for a stop-smoking hotline.

The labels were to constitute 20 percent of cigarette advertising, and marketers were to rotate use of the images. Leon said the labels would amount to a "mini-billboard" for the agency's "obvious anti-smoking agenda."

The Justice Department argued that the images, coupled with written warnings, were designed to communicate the dangers to youngsters and adults. The FDA declined to comment on the judge's ruling.

Congress instructed the FDA to require the labels, following the lead of the Canadian regulations that require similarly graphic images on cigarette packs. The cigarette makers say their products have had Surgeon General warnings for more than 45 years, but that they never filed a legal challenge against them until the images were approved.

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