Appeals Court Denies Rehearing on Graphic Cigarette Labels

RICHMOND, Va. -- The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., today denied a request from the federal government that it reconsider a decision blocking the requirement that tobacco companies place graphic images and health warnings on cigarette packages, reported the Associated Press. The court did not give a reason it denied the request for a full court or panel to rehear the case.

The government has 90 days to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. A Justice Department spokesman declined to issue a comment, according to the report.

In June 2011, the Food and Drug Administration released nine graphic warning labels with a mandate that they appear on all cigarette packaging and advertising by Sept. 22. In response, Lorillard Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Commonwealth Brands Inc. and Liggett Group LLC filed a lawsuit arguing that rather than just providing factual health information, the labels crossed into anti-smoking advocacy. Images on the labels included a man exhaling smoke through a tracheotomy and a pair of healthy lungs side by side with the lungs of a smoker.

On Aug. 24, a three-judge panel upheld a lower court's ruling that banned the warning label requirement on First Amendment grounds, as CSNews Online reported.

In its appeal for a rehearing, the federal government defended the accuracy of the warning labels and stated that their format was designed for a "market in which the vast majority of users become addicted to a lethal product before age 18," according to the report.

A similar law recently went into effect in Australia. As of Dec. 1, tobacco company logos and colors are banned from Australian cigarette packages, to be replaced by a uniform green-brown color and graphic health warnings.

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