In a morale booster to health campaigners, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Monday affirmed that tobacco companies will have to adhere to stringent graphic health warnings while selling their products.
The judgment was part of a lawsuit in Kentucky filed by a group of tobacco firms who argued that provisions of a certain law known as the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act stifled their freedom of speech.
Plaintiffs in the suit included R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., American Snuff Co., among others. Defendants included the U.S. government, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, among others.
In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals mostly upheld an earlier decision by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.
The Court affirmed the requirement of tobacco makers to provide ample space on tobacco packages for textual health warnings. It also upheld the restrictions on the marketing of modified-risk tobacco products, bans on event sponsorship, branding non-tobacco merchandise, and free sampling.
The Court also maintained the Act's restriction of tobacco advertising to black and white text, and the constitutionality of the color graphic and non-graphic warning label requirement.
The appeal court reversed the District Court's determination that the restriction on statements regarding the relative safety of tobacco products based on FDA regulation is unconstitutional. It also struck down the determination that the Act's ban on tobacco continuity programs is permissible under the First Amendment.
The lawsuit comes as health authorities strive to combat the problem of tobacco use, and to wean away young people who might fall a prey to the predatory marketing tactics of tobacco companies.
The U.S. Congress began regulating tobacco products in 1965 and has since passed major legislation regarding tobacco industry practices on at least six occasions.
In 1996, the FDA attempted to assert its jurisdiction to further regulate the tobacco industry. At that time, the Agency made major findings regarding tobacco use among juveniles, a stand confirmed by a more recent finding by the President's Cancer Panel.
In June 2009, the President signed into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to provide authority to the FDA to regulate tobacco products. The Act aims to address issues of particular concern to public health officials, including the use of tobacco by young people and dependance on tobacco.
Apart from promoting cessation of tobacco use, the Act regulates the sale of tobacco products, and the advertising and marketing of those products.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, struck down the new cigarette pack warnings. That ruling is on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
by RTT Staff Writer
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