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Showdown? Sixth Circuit OKs New Cigarette Warning Label

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 19, 2012 4:03 PM

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the new, graphic cigarette warning labels do not violate tobacco companies’ free speech rights, reports Politico.

In a lengthy opinion, the court affirmed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act’s restrictions on the marketing of modified-risk tobacco products and bans on event sponsorship, branding non-tobacco merchandise, and free sampling, as well as the requirement that tobacco manufacturers reserve significant packaging space for textual health warnings.

The court also agreed with the district court that the new color graphic and non-graphic warning label requirement is constitutional.

But it wasn't all good news for the government: the court appellate court rejected black-and-white, text-only advertising restrictions imposed on tobacco companies.

Discount Tobacco City & Lottery, Inc., a coalition of manufacturers and sellers, challenged the advertising restrictions under the Act approximately two months after President Obama signed it into law. The group sued the U.S. government, claiming that the Act violates their free speech rights under the First Amendment, constitutes an unlawful taking under the Fifth Amendment, and infringes on their Fifth Amendment due process rights.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals largely disagreed. Writing for the majority, Judge Eric Clay concluded, "The warning labels required by the Act do not impose any restriction on Plaintiffs' dissemination of speech, nor do they touch upon Plaintiffs' core speech. Instead, the labels serve as disclaimers to the public regarding the incontestable health consequences of using tobacco."

That's a far cry from last month's D.C. district court decision, finding that the new cigarette warning requirement violated the tobacco industry's free speech rights without a compelling government interest. While the D.C. decision may still be appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the split could lead to a Supreme Court showdown between tobacco companies and the government.

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