Oral Arguments This Week on Graphic Cigarette Labels

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 10, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On April 10, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will be hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of graphic images on cigarette packages.

On February 29, a U.S. District Court ruled that the images were unconstitutional. The labels in question include images of a sewn up cadaver and diseased lungs. The district court judge held that the images, which take up 20 percent of the cigarette carton, infringe upon the First Amendment free-speech rights of the tobacco companies.

In the district court case, Judge Richard Leon stated that the images did not convey purely factual information, holding that the warning label requirement was meant to disgust consumers rather than inform them.

"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," wrote Judge Leon.

The suit was brought by five tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Santa Fe Natural. The companies sued the Food and Drug Administration, claiming that the labels were not protected commercial speech.

The labels were set to go live in September 2011, but have been on hold for several months pending litigation.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids claims that the ruling is both wrong on the law and wrong on science.

The debate on the topic is heated, pitting the cigarette industry against anti-smoking advocates.

An Ohio federal appeals court has already issued a contradictory ruling, stating that the images are constitutional.

The suit is anticipated to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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