US Judge Temporarily Blocks Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels

Date : 11/07/2011 @ 12:26PM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Altria Grp., Inc. (MO)
Quote : 71.73  -0.51 (-0.71%) @ 7:47PM

US Judge Temporarily Blocks Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels

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A federal judge has temporarily blocked the implementation of graphic warning labels on cigarettes while a case about whether the labels are constitutional proceeds.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is seeking to require tobacco makers to place stronger warnings and graphic pictures on the top half of cigarette packages starting in September 2012. The images include pictures of diseased lungs, a body on an autopsy table and a man blowing cigarette smoke out of a tracheotomy hole in his neck that will be combined with wording such as "smoking can kill you."

Five tobacco companies, including Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) and Lorillard Inc. (LO) have sued the FDA in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing that the graphic images violate the First Amendment's free speech clause.

In September, the companies asked the judge in the case, Richard J. Leon, to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the implementation of the labels. Leon granted the injunction Monday in a ruling that stated the plaintiffs "have demonstrated a substantial likelihood that they will prevail on the merits of their position" that the graphic images are unconstitutional.

The industry has said it would accept stronger text warnings in place of current warnings on the sides of cigarette packages.

Lawyers for the tobacco companies argued that the graphics "are designed to shock, disgust, and frighten adult consumers of cigarettes" and are unconstitutional.

Noel Francisco, a lawyer who argued on behalf of the tobacco companies during a Sept. 21 hearing, said the images don't meet a legal test that allows the government to require companies to place certain "factual, non-controversial" information on products.

Altria Group Inc. (MO), the parent company of Philip Morris USA, isn't a party to the lawsuit but has expressed concerns about the graphic warning requirements.

-By Jennifer Corbett Dooren, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9294; jennifer.corbett@dowjones.com

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