At Issue: Cigarette Labels
Four big cigarette makers are suing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, seeking to void new, graphic labels and advertising that warn consumers about the risks of smoking and induce them to quit. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Four tobacco companies are seeking legal action against the federal government over requirements to put graphic warning labels on cigarette packs.

Tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard, Commonwealth Brands, and Liggett Group filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a Lorillard news release.

"The government can engage in as much anti-smoking advocacy as it chooses in whatever language and with whatever pictures it chooses," said Floyd Abrams, who is representing Lorillard. "It cannot force those who lawfully sell tobacco to the public to carry that message, those words, and those pictures."

In June, the Food and Drug Administration showed the "nine graphic health warnings required to appear on every pack of cigarettes sold in the United States and in every cigarette advertisement," an FDA press release said.

The FDA chose the nine graphics from 36 proposed images after extensive study and research.

Tobacco companies are required to start putting the graphics on their products in September 2012.

They must be displayed on at least half of the front and back of cigarette packs, and 20 percent of the top of the pack, MedPage Today reported.

"This is precisely the type of forced speech the First Amendment prohibits," the lawsuit said, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, MedPage Today reported.