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Tobacco Firms Sue FDA Over Graphic Warning Labels

Another of the startling images that will soon be appearing on cigarette packages.
Another of the startling images that will soon be appearing on cigarette packages.

Four tobacco firms filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration arguing that new regulations that require them to put graphic warning labels on cigarette packages violate their constitutional rights.

In a statement, a lawyer who represents Lorillard, Inc., the third largest manufacturer of cigarettes in the U.S., said the regulations "violate the First Amendment."

"The notion that the government can require those who manufacture a lawful product to emblazon half of its package with pictures and words admittedly drafted to persuade the public not to purchase that product cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny," said Floyd Abrams, a partner in the New York law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Commonwealth Brands, Inc., and Liggett Group LLC were the other three companies joining the Lorillard suit.

The AFP provides some background:

In June the FDA unveiled the graphic images — including a lifeless body, a scarred mouth and a blackened lung — that will occupy the top 50 percent of the front and rear panels of cigarette packs sold in the United States and the top 20 percent of cigarette advertisements.

One of the images, which shows a man with his chest sewn up, bears the caption "Warning: Smoking can kill you."

According to the FDA, smoking kills 1,200 people a day in the United States alone.

The label changes came about following a June 2009 law, signed by President Barack Obama about five months after he took office, that gave the FDA the power to regulate manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products.

The AP reports that the lawsuit also claims that the FDA manipulated the images to be put on packaging. In one, it argued, a photo of a corpse is actually of an actor with a fake scar, while in another healthy lungs were "sanitized" to make diseased lungs look worse.

The AP adds that the companies also complained they would have to invest millions in new equipment so they could print different images on different packets.

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.