Nov. 5 2009
Washington, D.C. — In a clear victory for public health, a federal judge in Kentucky today rejected a motion by tobacco companies to block key provisions of the new law giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to regulate tobacco products. Specifically, today's decision strongly supports the government's authority to prevent the industry from making health claims about its products without FDA approval.
We applaud the federal court's decision to quickly and decisively reject the latest attempt by Big Tobacco to frustrate the intent of the new FDA law and allow the agency to get on with its role in putting an end to deceptive and dangerous tobacco marketing.
Eleven public health and consumer advocacy groups joined in the legal effort to thwart the industry's challenge to the law based on the claim that its First Amendment rights were violated. U.S. District Court Judge Joseph H. McKinley denied a request from R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies to keep the FDA from implementing the law, saying they have "little likelihood" in proving that their free speech rights have been harmed. Judge McKinley forcefully backed the government's interest in protecting consumers from misleading claims about tobacco products with supposedly reduced health risks.
The judge agreed with the key argument that "given the significant health risks associated with the use of tobacco products and the history of marketing ‘low tar' and ‘light' cigarettes," the government "has a substantial interest in protecting consumers from misleading tobacco industry claims about allegedly reduced risk tobacco products."
The court's ruling supports the portion of the FDA law that requires tobacco companies to submit for the agency's review any claims of reduced risk. The FDA is empowered to determine if the claim is scientifically justified and benefits public health. McKinley cited a pivotal ruling in the Department of Justice's racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco companies, noting that tobacco companies have a "history of advancing their bottom line by misleading consumers about the health risks associated with their products."
The groups who joined the government in supporting the FDA law are: The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Legacy Foundation, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Kentucky Medical Association, Oncology Nursing Society and Public Citizen.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people and costing $96 billion in health care costs annually.