Bucking international trends such as what we have just witnessed in Australia, a US appeals court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling that would block the federal government from requiring tobacco companies to put graphic anti-smoking images on cigarette packaging.
The last decade has seen countries like Canada, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Iran and Singapore, among others, adopt all kinds of new legislation regarding the way cigarettes can be sold, including the graphic warnings now displayed on tobacco products.
Australia has just decided to strip cigarette packs of all their branding.
However, the US Court of Appeals in Washington on Friday ruled that it supported a lower court decision that the requirement to display graphic anti-smoking images on cigarette packs violated the right to free speech under the First Amendment.
Now the issue will have to be decided by the US Supreme Court.
A group of the largest US tobacco companies filed lawsuits to invalidate the requirement for labels, which included warnings showing the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit. They said the proposed warnings went beyond factual information into anti-smoking advocacy.
Says the US News:
The labels are a part of the requirements of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed into law in 2009 by President Barack Obama. For the first time, the law gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration significant control over tobacco products.
The proposed label requirement from the FDA – set to kick in this September – would have emblazoned cigarette packaging with images of people dying from smoking-related disease, mouth and gum damage linked to smoking and other gruesome portrayals of the harms of smoking.
In February, US District Judge Richard Leon, of the US District Court in the District of Columbia, ruled that the FDA mandate violated the US Constitution’s free speech amendment.
The nine proposed images, designed to fill the top half of all cigarette packs, have stirred controversy since the concept first emerged in 2009.
One image shows a man’s face and a lighted cigarette in his hand, with smoke escaping from a hole in his neck — the result of a tracheotomy. The caption reads, “Cigarettes are addictive.” Another image shows a mother holding a baby as smoke swirls about them, with the warning: “Tobacco smoke can harm your children.”
A third image depicts a distraught woman with the caption: “Warning: Smoking causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers.”
A fourth picture shows a mouth with smoked-stained teeth and an open sore on the lower lip. “Cigarettes cause cancer,” the caption reads.
Smoking is the leading cause of early and preventable death in the United States, resulting in some 443 000 fatalities each year, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and costs almost $200 billion every year in medical costs and lost productivity.
South Africa has not yet indicated whether it would ban brands being displayed on tobacco packets, or introduce similar graphic images, but it is watching the trends closely.
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