The tobacco industry urged a federal judge Wednesday to block the implementation of graphic warning labels on cigarettes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is requiring 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."

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. 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 the lawsuit or any other lawsuit but the company has expressed concerns about the graphic warning requirements.

Steve Callahan, an Altria spokesman said, "We continue to work constructively with the FDA, but reserve our rights and options to protect the company's interests."

During Wednesday's hearing, the other tobacco companies asked a judge to temporarily block the implementation of the graphic warning labels while the case proceeds about whether the graphics are legal. Industry lawyers argued the companies would soon have to start spending "tens of millions of dollars" to purchase and test new equipment capable of printing the new labels.

The judge in the case, Richard J. Leon, said he would try to make a decision by the end of October about whether to delay the implementation of the graphic warnings.

The new cigarette warnings stem from a 2009 law that gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco. Included in the law is a requirement for graphic images to go on cigarette packaging and advertising. In 2010 another federal court in Kentucky ruled that the government had the authority to regulate cigarettes. That case is on appeal.

In the Washington D.C. federal case, tobacco companies argue 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, 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.

"Shocking, color graphics don't even remotely deliver a factual, non-controversial message," Francisco told Leon.

Mark Stern, a lawyer for the FDA, said the agency followed steps outlined in the 2009 tobacco law when coming up with the graphic images.

"Just because some of the images may be disturbing doesn't mean they don't accurately portray the risks of smoking," Stern said.

-By Jennifer Corbett Dooren, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9294;