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R.J. Reynolds, Tobacco Giants Sue FDA Over Graphic Warning Labels

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on August 18, 2011 6:45 AM

Four of the nation's largest tobacco companies filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday challenging new tobacco label regulations that will require all packaging to display graphic images depicting the adverse health effects of smoking.

R.J. Reynolds joined Lorillard, Imperial Tobacco Group, and Vector Group's Liggett in arguing that the new label requirements push the limits of constitutionally permitted restrictions on commercial speech.

This is actually the second lawsuit the group has filed against the government's attempts to limit tobacco advertising, the first attacking the validity of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA the power to implement these regulations.

A federal judge in Kentucky upheld related provisions of the law last year, but the 6th Circuit's appellate decision is expected in upcoming months.

This new challenge comes right after the FDA finalized its nine new warning labels in June, which include graphic images accompanied by large text describing the impact of smoking.

The group's main contention is that the government cannot force a manufacturer of a lawful product to so boldly persuade consumers not to purchase that product, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Attorneys claim these tobacco label regulations mark the first time the government has ever made such an attempt.

Though the FDA has declined to comment, chances are the Justice Department will respond with the same argument it made in the 6th Circuit case:

Big Tobacco's track record and its history of distracting users from the facts require the FDA the take big steps to prevent misleading advertisements.

Is this a valid defense of the new tobacco label regulations? Or is this second, substantially similar lawsuit worth the cost?

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