In a victory for the nation's health, the U.S. Supreme Court today let stand an appellate court ruling that upheld most provisions of the landmark 2009 law granting the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products, including the requirement for large, graphic cigarette warning labels. The Supreme Court declined to hear the tobacco industry's appeal of a March 2012 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
This decision allows the FDA to move forward with developing new graphic cigarette warnings that comply with both the 2009 law and recent court rulings. The FDA should quickly do so. While the Sixth Circuit upheld the law's requirement for graphic warnings, a separate ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit blocked the specific warnings the FDA proposed.
The 2009 law requires graphic warnings that cover the top half of the front and back of cigarette packs and 20 percent of cigarette ads. The Sixth Circuit ruling found that the required warnings "are reasonably related to the government's interest in preventing consumer deception and are therefore constitutional." The warnings "do not impose any restriction on Plaintiff's dissemination of speech, nor do they touch on Plaintiffs' core speech. Instead, the labels serve as disclaimers to the public regarding the incontestable health consequences of using tobacco."
The new warnings are needed to better inform Americans about the deadly consequences of smoking. As Congress found in enacting the requirement, the current, text-only warnings – which are printed on the side of cigarette packs and haven't been updated since 1984 – are stale and unnoticed. Studies around the world and evidence presented to the FDA show that large, graphic warnings are most effective at information consumers about the health risks of smoking.
The Sixth Circuit ruling also upheld other key provisions of the law that:
Prohibit tobacco companies from making health claims about tobacco products without FDA review;
Ban several forms of tobacco marketing that appeal to children, including brand name sponsorships, tobacco-branded merchandise such as caps and t-shirts, and free samples of tobacco products; and
Prohibit tobacco companies from making statements implying that a tobacco product is safer because it is regulated by the FDA.
The Sixth Circuit ruling recognized that Congress acted appropriately, based on the science and in accordance with First Amendment principles when it granted the FDA authority over tobacco products. The FDA should move forward aggressively to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use, which is the nation's number one cause of preventable death.