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Graphic Cigarette Label Law is Constitutional: 6th Cir.

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on March 19, 2012 3:02 PM

The federal government has won the latest round in the battle over graphic cigarette labels, garnering a favorable ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The court was tasked with assessing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA), a piece of federal legislation passed in 2009.

The panel of judges upheld almost all of the law's major provisions, including one that requires tobacco companies to give significant packaging space to warning labels, Reuters reports. The judges found that the "government has a significant interest in preventing juvenile smoking and in warning the general public about the harms associated with the use of tobacco products."

The FSPTCA basically overhauled tobacco advertising in the United States. It barred event sponsorship, the branding of non-tobacco merchandise, and free samples. The Act also required tobacco companies to dedicate 50% of cigarette packaging, 30% of smokeless tobacco packaging, and 20% of all advertising to graphic cigarette labels.

All of these provisions were upheld as constitutional.

Though the court's ruling may appear to contradict more recent decisions regarding graphic cigarette labels, it actually does not. Just last month, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., found the Food and Drug Administration's proposed warning labels to be unconstitutional. The D.C. judge said the labels were too big, and that the gruesome images did not convey purely factual information.

Unlike the D.C. court, the Sixth Circuit did not actually rule on the constitutionality of the images themselves. It only opined on the statute -- the requirement that a certain size and type of warning be used. Whether the FDA's graphic cigarette labels are themselves constitutional is still up in the air.

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