Up in Smoke: Anti-Tobacco Campaign Blocked

Graphic warnings on cigarette packages and promotions may never appear

March 1, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

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(dailyRx News) The images on cigarette packs were to have been so disgusting that consumers would think twice about smoking. Now they may never be seen, because the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) anti-smoking campaign may have gone up in smoke.

A federal mandate has been throw out that would have required cigarette packaging and promotional materials to be largely covered with graphic images warning against the perils of smoking.

A judge in Washington ruled that such requirements were unconstitutional because they violated freedom of speech.

"Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help quitting now."

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act required cigarette manufacturers to rotate through nine disgusting images of such things as diseased lungs, a dead body and smoke emanating from a tracheotomy. The images were accompanied by verbal warnings.

A suit to halt the FDA requirements was filed by a group of cigarette manufacturers, led by R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard. The suit questioned whether or not the warnings were factual or simply an attempt to discourage smokers. 

"The graphic images here were neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks; rather, they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking,'' wrote Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in his 19-page ruling.

Anti-tobacco groups were quick to respond. 

Christopher W. Hansen of the Cancer Action Network said in a statement, "Today's ruling ignores the overwhelming, decades-long need for strong cigarette warning labels and allows Big Tobacco to proceed 'business as usual,' continuing to promote its highly addictive and deadly products." 

"The bizarre finding contradicts what we have known for decades – that between one-half and one-third of those who continue to smoke will ultimately die from it," said Cheryl G. Healton, Dr.P.H., President and CEO of Legacy, a a national youth smoking prevention campaign.

A press release from R.J. Reynolds applauded the ruling. “We believe governments, public health officials, tobacco manufacturers and others share a responsibility to provide tobacco consumers with accurate information about the various health risks associated with smoking,” said Martin L. Holton III, executive vice president and general counsel for R.J. Reynolds. “However, the goal of informing the public about the risks of tobacco use can and should be accomplished consistent with the U.S. Constitution. 

Judge Leon offered a number of alternatives for the FDA to educate the American public about the dangers of cigarette smoking.

The FDA had not yet commented.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 29, 2012
Last Updated:
March 1, 2012