The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, weighing in on a lawsuit over graphic cigarette warning labels, said that the federal government has no legal authority to take place on the packaging or Tobacco Company advertising to convince consumers not to buy the product.
The pro-business lobbying group filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington late Monday in the lawsuit, some of the largest U.S. tobacco companies, including RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company and Lorillard Tobacco Co. plan to suit challenges the Food and Drug Administration to require new graphics warnings be placed on cigarette packs this year. Tags include seam of the body of the smoker, and paintings diseased lungs.
A U.S. District Court judge in November blocked the label when deciding they violate the company right to freedom of speech, stating that it is likely cigarette manufacturers succeed in the lawsuit. FDA appealed this decision and oral arguments are set for April. Oral arguments on motions opinion about the new labels at the bar is scheduled for Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
In its filing, the group that represents more than 3 million businesses and professional organizations in the United States wrote that that resolution warning labels would be “a radical departure from traditional government efforts to regulate speech because they force businesses to discredit the very products that are they are legally marketing.”
The chamber also added that the label “designed to provoke an adverse emotional reaction and feared above and beyond any actual disclosure of information related to the risks associated with smoking.”
The tobacco companies have questioned the constitutionality of the label, saying, warning not just to convey the facts to inform decision people need to smoke, but that instead force cigarette manufacturers to display the Government’s anti-smoking propaganda is more noticeable than their own brand. They also say that changing the packaging of cigarettes will cost millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, FDA said that the public interest to transfer the dangers of smoking outweigh the companies the right to freedom of speech.
The FDA in June of last year approved nine new warnings that the company prints the entire upper half of a cigarette pack, front and rear. The new warning, each of which includes a number of quit smoking hotline should also be 20 percent of cigarette advertising and marketing to turn the use of the images.
One label depicts a corpse with its chest sewn up and the words “Smoking can kill you.” Another label shows a healthy pair of lungs in yellow and black pair with a warning that smoking causes fatal lung disease.
Joining North Carolina-based R.J. Reynolds, owned by Reynolds American Inc., and Lorillard Tobacco, owned by Lorillard Inc., in the lawsuit are Commonwealth Brands Inc., Liggett Group LLC and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc.
Richmond-based Altria Group Inc, parent company of the largest cigarette manufacturing country, Philip Morris USA, which makes the cigarette-store.biz/online/marlboro, is not part of the trial.
The free speech lawsuit is separate from a lawsuit by several of the same companies over the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. This law came into force two years ago, paved the way for a clearer warning labels. But it is also possible to limit the FDA ban nicotine and tobacco companies from supporting sports and social activities, or give away free samples or branded goods.
A federal judge upheld many parts of the law, but the case is now pending before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Although the last legal challenge the tobacco industry may not hold up, it could delay the new warning labels for many years. And it is likely to keep cigarette manufacturers millions of dollars in lost sales and increases the price on the packaging.
Tobacco companies are increasingly relying on their packaging to build brand loyalty and capture consumers. It’s one of few advertising levers left to them after the government curbed their presence in magazines, billboards and TV.