Coronavirus Leads FDA to Seek Delay of Graphic Cigarette Warnings

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Coronavirus Leads FDA to Seek Delay of Graphic Cigarette Warnings

Cigarette warnings

SILVER SPRING, Md. — A judge is considering a request to push back the implementation of the new graphic cigarette warnings.  

On May 6, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) joined with several major tobacco companies to ask a federal judge to delay the requirement because of disruptions driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Law360.

Currently, cigarette packaging and advertising are required to display the new health warnings beginning June 18, 2021. As of that date, one of the 11 new warnings must appear on the top 50 percent of the front and back of cigarette packages and at least 20 percent of the top of ads. In addition, the warnings must be "randomly and equally displayed and distributed on cigarette packages and rotated quarterly in cigarette advertisements," the FDA said.

The agency finalized those 11 new warnings in March, as Convenience Store News previously reported.

Now, the FDA requested a 120-day extension to Oct. 16, 2021. The request is likely due in part to FDA staffers having been enlisted by the U.S. Public Health Service to help fight the pandemic, limiting the agency's ability to focus on implementation of the rule, according to Law360.

Tobacco companies have also said implementing the rule would "require them to commence substantial efforts as soon as possible" to meet its requirements, and that the pandemic has only made compliance more difficult, the news outlet added.

The FDA's request comes as the several tobacco companies joined in a legal challenge against the cigarette health warnings. On April 3, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., ITG Brands, Liggett Group and five tobacco retailers filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against the FDA.

In asking the court for the 120-day extension, the FDA said the delay would not affect the merits of the lawsuit filed by the tobacco companies alleging the "emotionally charged" required labels violate the First Amendment.

"Defendants remain fully committed to the rule, and would not agree to postpone its effective date but for the extraordinary disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," the FDA and the companies said in a joint motion.

According to Law360, Altria Groups Inc.'s subsidiaries Philip Morris Inc. and Sherman Group Holdings LLC filed a similar complaint against the FDA over the labeling rule on May 6, saying the rule violates the First Amendment and that its requirements will take too much time to implement before the June 18, 2021, deadline.