Tobacco Companies Lose Challenge To Graphic Images On Packs

 @DanRivoli
on March 19 2012 4:38 PM

Tobacco companies' challenge to the proposed mandates on cigarette marketing and packaging went up in smoke at a federal appeals court Monday when judges backed the Obama administration's regulations, including graphic warning pictures on packs.

A three-judge panel for the Ohio-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2009 law that authorizes the Food and Drug Administration to regulate how cigarette packs look and how tobacco products can be advertised.

Major tobacco producers and sellers -- industry giant RJ Reynolds, maker of the Camel brand, is one of the plaintiffs -- are fighting the law on First Amendment grounds, challenging regulations that would force them to make room on cigarette packaging for large graphic images that show the dangers of smoking; limit tobacco advertising to bland black text on white background; prohibit companies from pushing so-called modified-risk claims on cigarettes, like light brands; and ban companies from claiming cigarettes are safer because of FDA regulations.

Monday's ruling was a blow to tobacco companies' efforts to snuff out the law; the 6th Circuit was the first federal appeals court to uphold much of the law, called the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

The 6th Circuit did strike down one section prohibiting promotions like Camel Cash and Marlboro Miles, which let consumers buy swag based on the number of packs they buy.

The judges said the government failed to show that a ban on these continuity programs would cut down on juvenile smoking, since logic dictates that the overwhelming beneficiaries... of these continuity programs are adult consumers.

Still, the biggest problems the law poses for the industry -- graphic pictures of trachea holes and diseased lungs on packs and colorless advertising in any medium that can reach children -- were upheld.

The legal battle is likely to bring tobacco regulations before the U.S. Supreme Court. The 6th Circuit, which mostly upheld a district judge's ruling in its Monday opinion, was the first appeals court to rule on the law.

A separate case over the law is pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, the Obama administration has appealed an order from a Washington, D.C., federal judge who ruled the graphic images mandate violated tobacco companies' free-speech rights.

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