On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to require tobacco companies to add graphic warning labels to cigarette packages, the Wall Street Journal reports (Corbett Dooren, Wall Street Journal, 8/24).
In November 2011, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon issued a preliminary injunction blocking FDA from enforcing the graphic warning label requirement.
In February, Leon ruled that the label requirement is a violation of tobacco companies' free speech rights. The Obama administration appealed the decision (California Healthline, 3/20).
Details of Appeals Court Ruling
The federal appeals court in a 2-1 ruling affirmed Leon's decision that FDA's label requirement violates tobacco companies' free speech rights (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/24).
Judge Janice Rogers, in the majority opinion, said that FDA "failed to present any data ... showing that enacting their proposed graphic warnings will accomplish the agency's stated objective of reducing smoking rates" (Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 8/24).
Reaction to Ruling
Floyd Abram -- an attorney who represented Lorillard Tobacco, one of the tobacco companies involved in the case -- said the ruling is a "significant vindication of First Amendment principles." He added that the court's decision shows "there are real limits on the ability of the government to require the manufacturer of a lawful product to denounce the product in the course of trying to sell it."
A spokesperson from the Department of Justice said the agency still is reviewing the ruling.
HHS released a statement defending the requirement, saying it is an "effective tool" to warn individuals about the dangers of smoking.
Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society in a statement said, "We hope the government can identify ways that the FDA can move forward with the new cigarette warning labels" (Felberbaum, AP/USA Today, 8/25).
Some legal experts say they expect the case ultimately to advance to the U.S. Supreme Court (Wall Street Journal, 8/24).