FDA cigarette warning labels satisfy First Amendment, US appeals court rules

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 4:29 PM

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Thursday said a U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation requiring graphic warning labels on cigarette packages and advertisements is constitutional, handing a victory to the Biden administration and a defeat to the tobacco industry.

Reversing a lower court ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the warnings are “factual and uncontroversial,” and satisfy the First Amendment.

RJ Reynolds, ITG Brands, Liggett and other tobacco companies had said the labels violated their free speech rights by compelling them to effectively endorse emotionally charged statements concerning their products, as opposed to facts such as how smoking can cause cancer.

The labels were to include 11 graphic images, such as diseased feet with amputated toes, to illustrate the risks of smoking.

According to the Biden administration, the labels were necessary because text-only warnings failed to deter teenagers from smoking.

The appeals court returned the case to the lower court judge to assess whether the regulation violated other laws, which the judge has yet to consider.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis)