Since no evidence was provided by the government that the graphic warning labels can reduce the incidence of smoking, the requirements for such labels were struck down by a federal appeals court. Federal regulators were not able to meet constitutional requirements that would justify the requirement of such labels based on the 2-1 decision of the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
According to Judge Janice Rogers Brown, the government is required by the First Amendment to declare substantial interest in justifying rules on commercial speech as well as show that the regulation should advance its goal.
The FDA was not able to show data that reflected a reduction smoking rates based on the graphic warning labels that will be placed on cigarette packages.
The lawyer representing Lorillard Inc (NYSE:LO) indicated that the decision was a major victory and is an important First Amendment ruling.
A spokesman from the Justice Department did not issue any statements since it will still have to review the ruling. No comments were also issued by the FDA since it has a policy that prevents them from discussing court cases.
The recent ruling may also come into conflict with an earlier ruling in a separate federal appeals court which upheld the authority of the government in regulating tobacco products. But the two court rulings are not the same since the first ruling focused on the whole tobacco law while the recent ruling dealt with particular graphic labels.
The FDA had proposed a requirement for all tobacco manufacturers to have graphic pictures and stronger warnings near the top of the packages of cigarettes by September. However the implementation was postponed following a ruling by a lower court.
Among the images proposed for the regulation are of a diseased ling, a person blowing smoke from a cigarette through a hole in the neck, as well as body on top of an autopsy table. It also includes the text “smoking can kill you.” Currently the warning labels are limited to text on a small box on the package. A law passed in 2009 gave the FDA its authority in regulating tobacco products.
The FDA was sued by a number of tobacco manufacturers since the labels would violate the free-speech clause of the First Amendment. However warnings with stronger text along the side of the packages were acceptable for the companies.
The general counsel and executive vice president of RJ Reynolds, Martin L. Holton III, indicated that the company was satisfied that the court was agreeable to informing consumers of the risks in the use of tobacco in a manner that does not contradict the Constitution.
The ruling was met with disappointment among anti-smoking groups and they encouraged the Justice Department to file an appeal.