Judge questions FDA’s graphic tobacco warnings

September 27, 2011 — A federal judge expressed doubts during a hearing last week about whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can force tobacco companies to post graphic images on their cigarette packages showing the negative effects of smoking, according to a Washington Post report.

In June, the FDA announced that it will require larger, more prominent health warnings on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the U.S., beginning in September 2012. (Click here to see the nine graphic health warnings the agency has chosen.)

These warnings, which were proposed in November 2010, were required under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that was signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 22, 2009.

But last month, several cigarette companies sued the FDA, challenging the agency’s new requirement that they include these warnings on all packaging. The warnings are an unconstitutional way of forcing tobacco manufacturers to disseminate the government’s antismoking message, according to the companies.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to stay the effective date of the regulation and a declaration that the regulation is unconstitutional.

In a two-hour hearing on September 21, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon questioned Justice Department lawyer Mark Stern on whether the nine images proposed by the FDA convey only the facts about the health risks of smoking or go beyond that.

If the judge determines that the images amount to advocacy, the tobacco companies would more likely be able to block the agency’s latest attempts to regulate the industry, the Post noted.

The judge expects to issue a ruling by the end of October, according to the Post.

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