[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that tobacco companies do not need to print graphic warnings of the dangers of smoking on cigarette packages. In a 2-1 decision, the DC Circuit struck down a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] regulation that requires tobacco companies to display graphic images such as a man smoking a cigarette through a hole in his throat. The court held that the FDA’s rule on graphic cigarette label warnings exceeded the agency’s statutory authority and undermined tobacco companies’ economic autonomy:
This case raises novel questions about the scope of the government’s authority to force the manufacturer of a product to go beyond making purely factual and accurate commercial disclosures and undermine its own economic interest … in this case, by making “every single pack of cigarettes in the country mini billboard” for the government’s anti-smoking message.
One judge dissented, arguing that the government has a strong interest in conveying information on cigarette packages to consumers about the health risks of smoking.
In March the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the graphic cigarette label warnings are constitutional. The court decided unanimously that the portions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text] designed to limit the tobacco industry’s ability to advertise to children, including a ban on distributing clothing and goods with logos or brand names, as well as sponsorship of cultural, athletic and social events requiring cigarette packaging and advertisements, is a valid restriction of commercial speech. Earlier that month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the FDA regulation recommending warning labels is unconstitutional [JURIST report], issuing a permanent injunction