This week a federal judge ruled in favor of tobacco companies challenging a FDA requirement that would force cigarette manufacturers to place graphic warning labels on their products.
“The government has failed to carry both its burden of demonstrating a compelling interest and its burden of demonstrating that the rule is narrowly tailored to achieve a constitutionally permissible form of compelled commercial speech," U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said.
The ruling stems from a 2009 law passed by Congress that required the FDA to enforce new warning requirements, which included manufacturers placing color labels on their products which covered at least half of the packaging space, as well as on 20 percent of print advertisements for cigarettes.
Last summer, the FDA unveiled nine warning labels – among them, photographs of charred lungs and corpses – that were expected to be placed on all cigarette packages in the United States by September 2012. Last year, Judge Leon allowed a preliminary injunction which prevented the mandatory warnings from being placed on tobacco products, a decision challenged by the Obama administration and currently awaiting a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, slammed this week’s decision, stating that the ruling “ignores decades of First Amendment precedent that support the right of the government to require strong warning labels to protect the public health.”
The United States Department of Health & Human Services was also critical of the ruling, announcing that the organization would “do everything we can to warn young people about the dangers of smoking” in a recent press release.
“This public health initiative will be an effective tool in our efforts to stop teenagers from starting in the first place and taking up this deadly habit,” the HHS release read. “We are confident that efforts to stop these important warnings from going forward will ultimately fail”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that almost 45 million adults smoke cigarettes in the United States, which the CDC also lists as the leading cause of preventable death in the nation.
According to the most recent CDC data, approximately 4,000 children smoke their first cigarette every day in America, with a quarter of them eventually becoming daily users.