US District Judge Rules Graphic Cigarette Photo Labels Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled on Wednesday that the government’s plan to require cigarette packs to show graphic images is unconstitutional.

In his decision Judge Leon wrote:

“These mandatory graphic images violate the First Amendment by unconstitutionally compelling speech.”

U.S. Congress members want tobacco companies to use colorful graphics depicting negative health effects caused by smoking with nine specific images chosen by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). If approved the images would go live on September 22 and would be paired with such text as “Smoking can kill you.”

Images under Congress’ law would need to cover the top half of the front and back of cigarette packages and messages would cover 20 percent of print advertisements.

The FDA was sued by Lorillard Inc. (LO) and Reynolds American Inc. (RAI), along with Commonwealth Brands Inc. and Liggett Group LLC. Those tobacco providers claimed that such action would violate the First Amendment while mentioning that it would cost them $20 million to meet the new requirement by the 2012 deadline.

Graphic images on packs of cigarettes isn’t a new concept, Canada, the U.K and Brazil are among some of the countries who have long required such images to be placed on cigarettes. One in five Canadians claim they smoke less because of the graphic images.

The full case can be read at:

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 11-cv-01482, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

Do you think graphic images involving the effects of cigarette smoking should be allowed or do they violate first amendment rights?