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Tobacco: Court Rules FDA Can’t Use Graphic Cigarette Labels

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Today, forty-three other counties have graphic labels on their cigarette packages. (Photo: Stock.xchng)
Today, forty-three other counties have graphic labels on their cigarette packages. (Photo: Stock.xchng)


  • Judge bans 36 graphic labels planned to be used on cigarette packages starting next year
  • Tobacco is responsible for 443,000 deaths in the US each year
  • FDA to spend $600 million on a new anti-smoking aimed at 13-24 year olds

US District Judge Richard J. Leon ruled the Federal Drug Administration cannot use graphic warning labels on cigarette packages. The court will protect the status quo until the constitutionality of the graphic labels can be evaluated because tobacco companies have proven the new labels would cause them to "suffer irreparable harm."

The 36 different graphic labels included images of a pair of diseased lungs, a mouth with cancerous lesions and a child surrounded by smoke, and were scheduled to be included on cigarette packages starting next year.

“This court must - and will - act to preserve the status quo until it can evaluate, on the merits (and without incurring irreparable harm to those companies genuinely affected), the constitutionality of the commercial speech that these graphic images compel,” Leon said in his 29-page decision.

Leon also questioned if the images were factual, saying some of them looked as if they have been digitally manipulated to evoke emotions.

FDA: Reduce Smokers, Cut Health Care Costs

The FDA believes adding graphic images to labels could not only reduce the number of smokers but also save between $221 million to $630 million in health care costs by 2032.

President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Matthew L. Myers told the Daily Finance: “The judge mischaracterized the goal, purpose and effect of the warnings. The FDA concluded that for a warning to be effective, it has to be seen, noticed, provoke the reader to think about the issue, and effectively communicate level of risk."

Richard Daynard, head of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, says the case may not be resolved for years.

Today, forty-three other counties have graphic labels on their cigarette packages.

Anti-Smoking Efforts Harmed?

The FDA had hoped the graphic label campaign would lower the number of smokers in the US as well as discourage new smokers. There are 42 million adult smokers in the US, a number that has stayed constant since 2004. Tobacco is responsible for 443,000 deaths each year in America.

Over the course of the next five years, the FDA plans to spend $600 million on a new anti-smoking campaign aimed at 13-24 year olds, their parents and family members. Ads will run on television, in print and through the use of social media websites. Most people begin smoking when they are teenagers.

The FDA also plans to target minorities, the disabled and pregnant women as well as those living in rural and low-income areas. Director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products Dr. Lawrence Deyton told The Associated Press: “One of the big lessons that I’ve learned is that we might have great public health programs, but they will fail if we do not adequately educate the public about them.”

The first ad campaigns are scheduled to begin in September 2012.

Key Statistics – Global Tobacco Industry (source: MarketLine )

  • The global tobacco market is predicted to have a value of over $490 billion in 2014, an increase of more than 14% since 2009.
  • Cigarettes account for nearly 92% of the global tobacco market's total value.
  • Nearly 41% of the global tobacco market value is in Europe.
  • The leading player in the global tobacco market is Philip Morris International, generating 17% of market value.
  • The top-three tobacco companies collectively accounting for over a 44% share of the total global tobacco market value.

By Melina Druga for
Melina Druga is an author and freelance journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @MelinaDruga .

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