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22 states endorse cigarette labels

Richard Craver, Winston-Salem Journal –

A group of 22 states, not including North Carolina, have stated their support of graphic cigarette warning labels and their stance against a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the labels.

The states filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington that backs the Food and Drug Administration’s attempt to introduce graphic labels that would cover half of a cigarette pack.

The FDA has claimed that the labels are the most significant change to cigarette packaging in 25 years. The nine labels — including images of a cadaver with a sewn-up chest, diseased lungs and gums, and cigarette smoke drifting around an infant — were chosen by the FDA in June. They were slated to debut on Sept. 22, 2012.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Inc. were among five tobacco manufacturers filing a lawsuit against the FDA in August challenging the constitutionality of the mandated labels, which also would cover the top 20 percent of advertisements. Also joining the lawsuit were Reynolds American Inc. subsidiary Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. Inc., Commonwealth Brands Inc., and Liggett Group LLC.

On Nov. 7, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon granted the manufacturers’ request for a preliminary injunction in a strongly worded rebuttal of the FDA’s initiative. The preliminary injunction moves the effective date of the regulations until 15 months after the final resolution of the litigation, which could take several years.

Leon said the labels would treat “every single pack of cigarettes in our country as a mini-billboard” for the FDA’s “obvious anti-smoking agenda.” Leon said the plaintiffs “have demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”

The FDA has said the public interest in conveying the dangers of smoking outweighs the companies’ free-speech rights.

The 22 attorneys general stated a similar opinion in their filing, saying the First Amendment does not prevent the government from requiring that “lethal and addictive products carry warning labels that effectively inform consumers of the risks those products entail.”

The brief was filed by attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, the Virgin Islands, Washington and West Virginia.

President Barack Obama — who recently became tobacco-free, according to his medical checkup — has weighed in on the label issue since Leon’s ruling, saying cigarette manufacturers “don’t want to be honest about the consequences.”

In January 2010, Judge Joseph McKinley Jr. of U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky ruled that tobacco manufacturers could continue to use color and graphics in marketing their products. He also ruled that manufacturers can claim a product is safer if it gains approval from the FDA.

However, McKinley upheld the majority of the provisions in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which became law in June 2010, including requiring large health warnings on cigarette packs.

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