Cigarette warning labels may not be going graphic anytime soon.
A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction against a regulation that requires cigarette packaging to contain graphic images. Those images include diseased lungs and a picture of a child that warns, "Tobacco smoke can harm your children."
They are also adorned with the number 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
The graphic images and new textual warnings are supposed to cover about half of each cigarette pack by September 2012. But the temporary injunction, and any appeals, will likely set that date back.
At issue is whether the cigarette warning labels constitute compelled speech under the First Amendment. The judge agreed with the tobacco companies, citing the size and emotional nature of the images. He found the labels to be an excessive means of promoting the government's anti-smoking message.
But critics warn that the judge misinterpreted the science behind the labels. Scientific evidence suggests that graphic cigarette warning labels are effective at discouraging "nonsmokers from starting to smoke, and motivating smokers to quit," according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
If true, this could factor into the appellate court's decision should the Food and Drug Administration decide to appeal. The Constitution demands that the labels be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. If the graphic labels are scientifically the best way to convey health warnings, they may withstand this requirement.
Even if the new cigarette warning labels don't ultimately make the cut, you can still expect the current labels to change. The tobacco companies did not object to the new textual phrases so long as they appear by themselves.