On 2/29/12, a judge ruled in favor of tobacco companies and against the government’s attempt to require graphic health warnings on cigarette packaging and advertising. At the heart of the case is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s rule requiring companies to label tobacco products with images of rotting teeth, diseased lungs and other images intended to illustrate the dangers of smoking. The graphic sampling of proposed labels was grotesque and covered most of the packaging–the regulations require warning labels to cover the top 50 percent of the cigarette package’s front and back panels, and the top 20 percent of print advertisements. From a marketing, communications, and design perspective, what a nightmare.
“Reynolds American Inc’s R.J. Reynolds unit, Lorillard Inc, Liggett Group LLC, Commonwealth Brands Inc, which is owned by Britain’s Imperial Tobacco Group Plc, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co Inc challenged the rule, arguing it would force them to engage in anti-smoking advocacy against their own legal products., ” according to the Reuters report.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said that the government failed to carry both its burden of demonstrating a compelling interest and its burden of demonstrating that the rule is narrowly tailored to achieve a constitutionally permissible form of compelled commercial speech. While public education regarding the dangers of smoking “might be compelling, an interest in simply advocating that the public not purchase a legal product is not,” Leon wrote in a 19-page ruling.
This will likely not be the last we hear on the subject as the government is expected to appeal. Read the Reuters article here.