Plans to roll out the first change in cigarette warnings in more than 25 years are on hold. A federal appeals court is considering whether or not the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) mandated large graphic health warnings on cigarette packages are constitutional.
Packages of cigarettes with one of nine graphic photos showing specific health risks associated with smoking, along with text designed to persuade smokers to quit and new smokers — typically teens — not to start, were due to hit store shelves in September 2012. But some of the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturers, including R.J. Reynolds American and Lorillard Inc., sued the government to block the mandate.
The warnings were to cover the entire top half of cigarette packs, front and back, and include the phone number for a stop-smoking hotline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Cigarette makers say the marketing mandate violates their free speech. In February District of Columbia District Court Judge Richard J. Leon agreed and blocked the requirement.
Last week, a three-judge panel questioned whether the government's proposed warnings cross over from being factual information into anti-smoking advocacy, reported the Associated Press (AP).
“At this week's hearing, judges questioned how far the government could go, such as putting graphic warnings on cars that ‘speed kills,’” an AP news release reported.
Judge Janice Brown, one of three panelists asked if the government could mandate a cigarette warning that said, "Stop! If you buy this product, you are a moron," or "Smokers are idiots."
Brown also questioned whether the government was on a path to put warnings on other legal products. The AP reported that she asked, "Where does this stop?"
Lawyers for the tobacco companies argued the point by superimposing the FDA tobacco image of a cadaver onto a McDonald's bag with the warning that fatty foods may cause heart disease, and the FDA's image of a premature baby in an incubator on a bottle of alcohol, with a warning that drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects.