Senators Urge Appeal of Ruling That Blocks New Cigarette Labels

Published in CSP Daily News

Letter to AG Holder calls decision "disappointing"

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) urging an immediate appeal of what the letter calls a "disappointing" U.S. District Court decision that halts the implementation of the FDA's new graphic warning labels on cigarette packages.

In June, the FDA chose new graphic labels that send a tough message about the dangers of smoking. The nine health warning labels chosen were scheduled for use on all cigarette packages and advertisements beginning in September 2012.

Click here to view the FDA's cigarette warning labels.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington ruled earlier this week that ordering tobacco companies to display graphic images of diseased lungs and a cadaver bearing chest staples on an autopsy table may "unconstitutionally compel speech."

He granted a preliminary injunction that blocked the new labels from going into effect, saying the tobacco companies that sued may win their claims that the warnings violate freedom of speech.

Leon added that the labels would amount to a "mini-billboard" for the agency's "obvious anti-smoking agenda."

(See Related Content below for details on the decision.)

The senators contend that the "FDA's new warning labels recognize the dangers of cigarettes and will help consumers to make informed choices about their health." They added, "The court's ruling jeopardizes efforts to use strong warning labels to protect public health."

An excerpt from the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder reads:

In 2009, Congress took the critical step of giving FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products by passing the Family Smoking Prevention & Tobacco Control Act. This law includes important provisions requiring cigarette manufacturers to include new labels with textual warning statements and graphic color images depicting the negative health consequences of smoking. In June, we applauded FDA's implementation of these provisions through its release of nine different graphic warning labels, each based on sound science on the effectiveness of graphic warning labels and recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science and the Surgeon General. Within their first year of use, these labels are expected to deter hundreds of thousands of people, including many young people, from smoking.

For 45 years, cigarettes have been required to carry warning labels that educate consumers about the dangers of smoking. FDA's new labels build upon existing requirements to poignantly demonstrate to consumers that cigarette smoking is hazardous to their health. The warning content includes factual statements and graphic representations that help to educate the general public about the dangers of smoking, encourage current smokers to quit, and prevent non-smokers from initiating cigarette use. The court's ruling jeopardizes efforts to use strong warning labels to protect public health.

FDA's new warning labels recognize the dangers of cigarettes and will help consumers to make informed choices about their health. We urge DOJ and FDA to appeal this disappointing court decision.

Click here to read the full letter.

And click here to read previous CSP Daily News coverage of the cigarette warning labels.