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24 AGs file brief supporting FDA in tobacco label suit

A group of Attorneys General representing 24 US states and territories filed an amicus brief with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday arguing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] can require cigarette packages to display graphic images of the dangers of smoking. The AGs believe that the government's duty to inform the public of the risks that tobacco poses should trump tobacco companies' free speech rights, saying that the government could require graphic labels for lethal and addictive products. The brief also claimed that current warnings on cigarette packages were inadequate in curbing tobacco use and more explicit labels, which include depictions [AP report] of a sewn-up corpse of a smoker and a picture of diseased lungs, would better protect the public. The brief is in support of the FDA appeal [JURIST report] of a district court decision banning the labels. In November, the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] blocked [JURIST report] the implementation of new requirements [FDA backgrounder], which mandated that all cigarettes would have graphic warnings detailing the dangers of tobacco use. The brief was filed by Attorneys General from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, the Virgin Islands, Washington and West Virginia. No date has been set for the appeal trial.

Tobacco warning labels have garnered a great deal of controversy recently, both in the US and abroad. Three weeks ago, JURIST guest columnist Allyn Taylor warned [JURIST comment] that nations' recent efforts to regulate cigarette labeling could trigger a series of successful tobacco industry lawsuits. Earlier this month, two tobacco companies challenged [JURIST report] Australia's Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill [text], which requires depictions on cigarette boxes of the negative effects of smoking. In late November, Philip Morris Asia Ltd. [corporate website] filed suit on behalf of its Australian affiliate [JURIST report], seeking compensation for its loss of Australian investments. In 2009, President Barack Obama [official website] signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text; JURIST report] into law, granting the FDA certain authority to regulate manufactured tobacco products. The legislation heightened warning-label requirements, prohibited marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allowed for the regulation of cigarette ingredients.

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