Obama administration appeals block on new cigarette warnings

A federal judge said the proposed images were like mini-billboards intended "to advocate a change in consumer behavior."

Story highlights

  • A judge blocked the new law in early November
  • "This case poses a constitutional challenge," the judge says
  • Companies would have to put pictures about the dangers of smoking on cigarette packs
  • One of the images shows a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his throat
The Obama administration appealed Tuesday a federal judge's decision to block a law that would have made tobacco companies include graphic pictures and messages showing the dangers of smoking on cigarette packages.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon made a decision on the law in early November. He cited First Amendment rights against unconstitutionally compelled speech as a factor in his 29-page decision.
"This case poses a constitutional challenge to a bold new tact (sic) by the Congress, and the FDA, in their obvious and continuing efforts to minimize, if not eradicate, tobacco use in the United States," Leon concluded at the time.
He said the tobacco companies had shown: a substantial likelihood of success; that allowing the labeling requirements to proceed would cause them to "suffer irreparable harm"; that "neither the Government, nor the public, will suffer any comparable injury as a result of the relief sought"; and that the public's "interest in the protection of its First Amendment rights against unconstitutionally compelled speech would be furthered."
The 36 proposed images include a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his throat; diseased lungs next to healthy lungs; a mouth bearing what appear to be cancerous lesions; a bare-chested male cadaver with chest staples down his torso.
Leon noted that the some of the pictures appeared to have been digitally enhanced or manipulated to make them "evoke emotion" and are not therefore "purely factual," as the government had asserted.
Though Congress mandated the images fill the top half of the front and back of cigarette packages, Leon said the dimensions suggest it was trying to turn cigarettes into mini-billboards intended not to impart information about smoking but "to advocate a change in consumer behavior."