* Rule requires graphic labels on cigarette packs, ads
* District court judge ruled in favor of tobacco companies
* Tobacco industry says requirement violates free speech
WASHINGTON, Nov 29 The Obama administration on
Tuesday appealed a U.S. judge's ruling and injunction that
blocked tobacco companies from having to display graphic images
on cigarette packs and advertising, such as a man exhaling
smoke through a hole in his throat.
The appeal had been widely expected after U.S. District
Judge Richard Leon earlier this month sided with tobacco
companies and granted a temporary injunction blocking the
He said the companies would likely succeed in their lawsuit
challenging the new graphic warnings as unconstitutional
because it compels speech in violation of the First Amendment.
The Food and Drug Administration in June released nine new
warnings to go into effect in September 2012, the first change
in U.S. cigarette warning labels in 25 years. Cigarette packs
already carry text warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General.
Congress instructed the FDA to impose the new labels as
part of 2009 legislation making the agency responsible for
regulating tobacco products.
The warnings were required to cover the top half of the
front and back of cigarette packs and 20 percent of printed
advertisements and must contain color graphics depicting the
health consequences of smoking, including diseased lungs, dead
bodies and rotting teeth.
But Leon said the graphic images were not narrowly
tailored, meaning they are unlikely to survive constitutional
muster. He said they provoked an emotional response rather than
just providing factual and noncontroversial information,
crossing the line into using company advertising for government
The administration appealed Leon's ruling to the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the case
could ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Reynolds American Inc's (RAI.N) R.J. Reynolds unit,
Lorillard Inc LO.N, Liggett Group LLC and Commonwealth Brands
Inc, owned by Britain's Imperial Tobacco Group Plc IMT.L,
sued the FDA in August to block the new advisories.
They argued the new graphic warnings force them to "engage
in anti-smoking advocacy" on the government's behalf, breaching
their right to free speech.
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the
United States, accounting for one in every five deaths every
year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. About 21 percent of U.S. adults smoke cigarettes, a
number little changed since 2004.
The case is R.J Reynolds Tobacco Co et al v. U.S. Food and
Drug Administration et al, U.S. District Court for the District
of Columbia, No. 11-cv-1482.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Anna Yukhananov in
Washington; Editing by Steve Orlofsky; editing by Carol