Administration Backs Down on Graphic Warning Labels for Cigarettes

by Katherine Connell

In 2009, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, giving the FDA new regulatory authority over tobacco products and requiring, among other things, that nine new warning labels be devised that would cover 50 percent of cigarette packets and display “color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking.”

A corpse, a woman sobbing, a baby ominously encircled with smoke, and an abscessed mouth with decaying yellow teeth were among the images that the FDA in 2011 proposed to accompany warnings such as “Smoking can kill you.”


Tobacco companies sued on First Amendment grounds, and the Obama administration has just conceded defeat. The Associated Press obtained a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to House speaker John Boehner informing him that the administration would decline to seek Supreme Court review of an appeals court’s upholding of a decision in favor of the companies:

[The tobacco companies] had argued that the proposed warnings went beyond factual information into anti-smoking advocacy.

The government, however, argued the images were factual in conveying the dangers of tobacco, which is responsible for about 443,000 deaths in the U.S. a year.

Apparently, the government was not confident that that argument would prevail in the Supreme Court.

The FDA has announced that it will “undertake research to support new rulemaking on graphic warning labels.”

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