HEALTH

Appeals court upholds block on graphic warnings

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The FDA declined to comment on pending litigation and the Justice Department said it would review the appeals court ruling. Public health groups are urging the government to appeal.

"While the tobacco industry has grown increasingly aggressive in preying upon the American public with misleading and fraudulent marketing practices over several decades, the warning labels have not been changed in 25 years," said John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society. "Existing warnings have failed to inform the public adequately of the risks of tobacco use. ... We hope the government can identify ways that the FDA can move forward with the new cigarette warning labels."

Warning labels first appeared on U.S. cigarette packs in 1965, and current warning labels that feature a small box with text were put on cigarette packs in the mid-1980s.

Changes to more graphic warning labels that feature color images of the negative effects of tobacco use were mandated in a law passed in 2009 that, for the first time, gave the federal government authority to regulate tobacco.

The share of Americans who smoke has fallen dramatically since 1970, from nearly 40 percent to about 20 percent. But the rate has stalled since about 2004, with about 46 million adults in the U.S. smoking cigarettes.

It's unclear why it hasn't budged, but some experts have cited tobacco company discount coupons on cigarettes and lack of funding for programs to discourage smoking or to help smokers quit. In recent years, more than 40 countries or jurisdictions have introduced labels similar to those created by the FDA.

The World Health Organization said in a survey done in countries with graphic labels that a majority of smokers noticed the warnings and more than 25 percent said the warnings led them to consider quitting.

Joining North Carolina-based R.J. Reynolds, owned by Reynolds American Inc., and Lorillard Tobacco, owned by Lorillard Inc., in the lawsuit are Commonwealth Brands Inc., Liggett Group LLC and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc.

Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc., parent company of the nation's largest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, which makes the top-selling Marlboro brand, is not a part of the lawsuit.

The case is separate from a lawsuit by several of the same tobacco companies over the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which cleared the way for the more graphic warning labels and other marketing restrictions.

The law also allowed the FDA to limit nicotine and banned tobacco companies from sponsoring athletic or social events or giving away free samples or branded merchandise.

In March, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled that the law was constitutional. The contradicting decisions mean the case could be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal.

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