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A federal appeals court Monday largely upheld the U.S. government's authority to regulate tobacco products, including requirements calling for stronger, graphic warnings on cigarettes.
The decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit backed most of a decision by a lower court in Kentucky, which ruled that most provisions of the 2009 law giving the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco was legal and didn't violate tobacco companies' free-speech rights.
However, last month another federal judge in the District of Columbia came to the opposite conclusion on the graphic-warning label requirements, ruling that the proposed warning labels violated tobacco companies' free-speech rights.
The differing rulings by the courts make it likely decisions on provisions of the tobacco law will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had proposed 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 tracheostomy hole in his neck that will be combined with stronger wording such as "smoking can kill you."
Several tobacco companies, including Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) and Lorillard Inc. (LO) have sued the FDA in federal court arguing that the graphic images violate the First Amendment's free speech clause. The industry has said it would accept stronger text warnings in place of current warnings on the sides of cigarette packages.
Altria Group Inc. (MO), the parent company of Philip Morris USA, isn't a party to lawsuits involving the federal tobacco law but the company has expressed concerns about the graphic warning requirements.
-By Jennifer Corbett Dooren, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9294; firstname.lastname@example.org