The latest effort to stop the #1 most preventable death in the country has been shut down (for now) by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon.
The FDA and Obama Administration passed regulations requiring tobacco companies to place graphic warning labels covering 50% of the packaging, 20% of a cigarette ad, along with a hotline for smokers to quit. Since the tobacco companies realized they may lose a lot of money as a result of the new legislation, they filed a lawsuit against the government and temporarily blocked the usage of the labels (which are used in 43 other countries).
We were hoping the block was only temporary and the government would win this fight, but Judge Leon shattered our dreams on Wednesday when he ruled that the controversial labels were unconstitutional because they violate tobacco's right to free-speech. The judge explained his decision in a 19-page ruling, reading:
"The government has 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."
A spokesman from the tobacco group that challenged the labels in court said this in response to their favorable ruling:
"We believe governments, public health officials, tobacco manufacturers and others share a responsibility to provide tobacco consumers with accurate information about the various health risks associated with smoking. However, the goal of informing the public about the risks of tobacco use can and should be accomplished consistent with the U.S. Constitution."
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, questioned the ruling by pointing out that it "ignores decades of First Amendment precedent that support the right of the government to require strong warning labels to protect the public health."
Much like the federal government appealed Judge Leon's initial block of the warning labels, which were scheduled to go in effect this September, government officials will most likely appeal this decision too.
We are deeply saddened that the courts have chosen to side with an industry that only cares about profits and not the people its products are killing.
The FDA's graphic labels would have definitely helped scare off kids considering picking up a pack to fit in with their peers, but like it always has been, it's up to U to educate them about the dangers of smoking!