Tobacco companies are back in court trying to prevent the government from imposing new regulations that will require bold warning labels on cigarette packages and advertisements. They lost a similar federal lawsuit in tobacco-friendly Kentucky last year. Now they are suing in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The Food and Drug Administration gained the authority to regulate tobacco products under a law passed in 2009. Among various restrictions placed on tobacco advertising, the law required that stronger warning labels — including those that graphically depict the harm caused by smoking — cover the top half of the front and the back of cigarette packs.
Several cigarette manufacturers sued in Kentucky in 2009 to have the law’s marketing restrictions overturned as unconstitutional infringements of commercial speech. They lost decisively on the requirement for bigger, bolder, colorful labels, which the judge deemed a carefully tailored provision to present the dangers of smoking in a more powerful way than the traditional smaller, text-only warnings.
The new suit challenges the specific graphic warning labels chosen by the FDA in June to best illustrate the dangers. The suit contends that the federal government cannot force manufacturers to cede half of the package to a message that warns people not to buy the product without infringing on the companies’ First Amendment rights.
The district court in Washington, a pioneer in exposing the history of deceitful and harmful behavior by the tobacco industry, should reject this latest effort to evade tobacco regulation that is needed to protect public health.