Cigarette Warning Labels Fine, Court Says

March 19, 2012 Updated: March 19, 2012

A U.S. district court on Monday ruled that most of the law requiring prominently featured graphic health warnings on cigarette packages and advertising does not violate tobacco companies’ rights to free speech.

The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Food and Drug Administration’s label law did not violate the First Amendment after tobacco companies sued to stop the law from going into effect, citing their rights to advertise to customers.

“The labels serve as disclaimers to the public regarding the incontestable health consequences of using tobacco,” the judges said in their ruling.

The FDA is planning to make all cigarette labels display a label that covers the top half of the package, showing graphic images like an autopsy cadaver and images of people dying of smoking-related diseases.

However, Judge Eric Clay said that while most of the regulations are fine, the graphic labels are problematic.

“Colorful graphic images can evoke a visceral response that subsumes rationale decision making,” he wrote in his opinion.