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Government's Decision Not to Appeal Cigarette Warning Ruling Is Disappointing; FDA Should Quickly Develop New Set of Graphic Warnings

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 19, 2013

Government's Decision Not to Appeal Cigarette Warning Ruling Is Disappointing; FDA Should Quickly Develop New Set of Graphic Warnings

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

WASHINGTON, DC – We are disappointed that the government will not seek Supreme Court review of an appellate court ruling that blocked graphic cigarette warnings proposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, we welcome the FDA's announcement that it will begin development of new warnings that comply both with legal rulings and the 2009 law that required large, graphic cigarette warnings. The FDA should move quickly to require strong warnings that are based on the best available science and fully inform Americans about the deadly consequences of smoking.

While the court ruling at issue today blocked the specific warnings developed by the FDA, a separate appellate court ruling upheld the law's underlying requirement for the graphic warnings. The law requires cigarette warnings that contain color graphics depicting the health consequences of smoking and cover the top half of the front and back of cigarette packs, as well as 20 percent of cigarette ads.

Tobacco companies filed two lawsuits challenging the warnings.

In March 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the law's warning labels requirement, finding that the warnings 'are reasonably related to the government's interest in preventing consumer deception and are therefore constitutional.' It 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.' Tobacco companies have appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court, which has not decided whether to accept the case.

In August 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the specific warnings proposed by the FDA. We believe this ruling was wrong on the science and the law.

Tobacco companies are fighting the graphic warnings because they know such warnings are effective. As a federal judge found in a 2006 civil racketeering judgment against cigarette manufacturers, these companies have spent decades deceiving the American people and downplaying the health risks of smoking. Even today, they continue to spend billions to glamorize smoking. The graphic warnings would counter the industry's deception and tell the truth about how deadly and unglamorous smoking truly is.

The graphic warnings were mandated by a large, bipartisan majority of Congress, which 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 show that large, graphic warnings are most effective at informing consumers about the health risks of smoking. The warnings discourage children and other nonsmokers from starting to smoke and also motivate smokers to quit (see our fact sheet at: Because of that evidence, more than 60 countries now require large, graphic cigarette warnings.

As the Sixth Circuit decision concluded, 'Faced with evidence that the current warnings ineffectively convey the risks of tobacco use and that most people do not understand the full risks, the Act's new warnings are reasonably related to promoting greater public understanding of the risks. A warning that is not noticed, read, or understood by consumers does not serve its function. The new warnings rationally address these problems by being larger and including graphics.'

We call on the FDA to act as quickly as possible to propose new warning labels to address the continuing harm caused by tobacco, the nation's number one preventable cause of death and disease.