Five tobacco companies filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the federal government, claiming that government-required graphic warning labels on cigarette packages are unconstitutional and that they violate their rights.
"The primary complaint is that we think it violates the First Amendment for the government to require people who produce a lawful product to essentially urge prospective purchasers not to buy it," First Amendment case expert Floyd Abrams said.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Commonwealth, Liggett, and Santa Fee Natural Tobacco are suing the Food and Drug Administration, FDA chief Margaret Hamburg, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The FDA, to the companies' despair, revealed nine new warning labels in June. The warning labels include a phone number for those who wish to quit, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
The FDA said that cigarette packages will display one of those new labels on half of each package September 2012.
Abrams says the tobacco companies don't have a problem with the written wording required by the latest FDA ruling.
Abrams said that "The government has lot of power to require warnings, but it doesn't require half of a cigarette pack to scream out, 'Don't buy this product!," CNN reported. "What is at issue is putting photographs of diseased people on every cigarette pack, include a phone number, and ask people to stop smoking. It's the direct advocacy to not buy the product, as opposed to a straightforward warning," he added.
Tobacco use, the leading cause of both premature and preventable death in the United States, kills almost half a million people each year, the FDA said on its Web site.