Cigarette Warning Labels Edge Closer to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The issue of cigarette warning labels could get a date with the U.S. Supreme Court now that a federal appeals court has turned down a request for an appeal.

As CSNews Online reported this week, on Wednesday the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. 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. The court did not give a reason it denied the request for a full court or panel to rehear the case.

The appeal request stems from a three-judge panel decision to upheld a lower court's ruling that banned the warning label requirement on First Amendment grounds. 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."

After the most recent denial, the clock starting ticking on the government's 90-day window to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. And since the decision is in conflict with one rendered in March by another federal appellate court, it raises the possibility that the high court may accept review of the cases, according to The Washington Times.

The U.S. Justice Department and the FDA declined to comment, as did a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., one of the plaintiffs, the news agency reported. Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the new outlet said the federal government should appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

The federal appellate court's decision "was wrong on the science and wrong on the law," Myers said, noting that "strong scientific evidence from around the world" indicates that graphic warnings on cigarette packages and advertising inform consumers about health risks of smoking, discourage children from smoking and motivate smokers to quit.

The battle centers around nine cigarette warning labels -- containing a mix of graphic images and text-- that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released in June 2011. The agency issued a mandate that they appear on all cigarette packaging and advertising by Sept. 21, 2012. The mandate immediately drew legal challenges by several tobacco companies, including Lorillard Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Commonwealth Brands Inc. and Liggett Group LLC.


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