Aug. 24 2012
WASHINGTON, DC – The Justice Department should quickly appeal today's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that struck down the large, graphic cigarette warnings required by the landmark 2009 law giving the FDA authority over tobacco products. Today's ruling is wrong on the science and law, and it is by no means the final word on the new cigarette warnings. The only other appellate court to consider the issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, upheld the graphic warnings requirement in March. The split decisions make it likely the U.S. Supreme Court will settle the issue.
The graphic cigarette warnings were mandated by a large, bipartisan majority of Congress. As the Sixth Circuit's ruling recognized, Congress acted based on strong scientific evidence and in accordance with First Amendment precedents that support the government's right to regulate commercial speech and require strong warning labels to protect public health.
The Sixth Circuit found that the law's requirements for graphic warnings "are reasonably related to the government's interest in preventing consumer deception and are therefore constitutional." That court found that the warnings "do not impose any restriction on Plaintiff's dissemination of speech, nor do they touch on Plaintiffs' core speech. Instead, the labels serve as disclaimers to the public regarding the incontestable health consequences of using tobacco."
In requiring the graphic warnings, Congress relied on an extensive scientific record demonstrating both the need for the new warnings and their effectiveness. That record shows that the current, text-only warnings – which are printed on the side of cigarette packs and haven't been updated since 1984 – are stale and unnoticed.
Studies around the world and evidence presented to the FDA also show that large, graphic warnings, like those adopted by the FDA, are most effective at informing consumers about the health risks of smoking, discouraging children and other nonsmokers from starting to smoke, and motivating smokers to quit (see our fact sheet summarizing the evidence). Because of that evidence, at least 43 other countries now require large, graphic cigarette warnings.
Tobacco companies are fighting the graphic warnings precisely because they know such warnings are effective. The companies continue to spend billions of dollars to play down the health risks of smoking and glamorize tobacco use. These new warnings will tell the truth about how deadly and unglamorous cigarette smoking truly is. Research has found that pack-a-day smokers could be exposed to cigarette health warnings more than 7,000 times per year. The new warnings will provide a powerful incentive for smokers to take the life-saving step of quitting and for kids never to try that first cigarette.