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Hawaii joins brief supporting graphic cigarette labels

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 02:10 p.m. HST, Dec 24, 2011


RICHMOND, Va. >>  Several states and U.S. territories are weighing in on a lawsuit over proposed graphic cigarette warning labels that include a sewn-up corpse of a smoker and a picture of diseased lungs, saying the federal government should be allowed to require the labels for the "lethal and addictive" products.

The 24 attorneys general from Hawaii and other states  filed a friend of the court brief on Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington in support of the Food and Drug Administration's challenge of a lower court ruling in the case.

Last month, a U.S. District Court judge granted a request by some of the nation's largest tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co., to block the labels while deciding whether the labels violate their free speech rights. The judge ruled it is likely the cigarette makers would succeed in a lawsuit to block the requirement that the labels be placed on cigarette packs next year.

Representatives for R.J. Reynolds declined to comment. Officials with Lorillard did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Saturday.

The tobacco companies have questioned the constitutionality of the labels, saying the warnings don't simply convey facts to inform people's decision whether to smoke but instead force the cigarette makers to display government anti-smoking advocacy more prominently than their own branding. They also say that changing cigarette packaging will cost millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, the FDA has said that the public interest in conveying the dangers of smoking outweighs the companies' free speech rights.

In the filing Friday, the attorneys general said that the First Amendment does not prevent the government from requiring that "lethal and addictive products carry warning labels that effectively inform consumers of the risks those products entail."

"Over forty years' experience with small, obscurely placed text-only warning labels on cigarette packs has demonstrated that they simply do not work," they wrote. "The warning labels reflect the unique magnitude of the problem they address, the deadly and addictive nature of the product, and the unparalleled threat this product and its marketing pose to America's youth."

The brief was filed by attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, the Virgin Islands, Washington and West Virginia.

In June, the FDA approved nine new warning labels that companies are to print on the entire top half of cigarette packs, front and back. The new warnings, each of which includes a number for a stop-smoking hotline, must constitute 20 percent of cigarette advertising, and marketers are to rotate use of the images.

One label depicts a corpse with its chest sewn up and the words "Smoking can kill you." Another shows a healthy pair of lungs beside a yellow and black pair with a warning that smoking causes fatal lung disease.

Joining North Carolina-based R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard in the lawsuit are Commonwealth Brands Inc., Liggett Group LLC and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc.

Richmond-based Altria Group Inc., parent company of the nation's largest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, which makes top-selling Marlboros, is not a part of the lawsuit.

The free speech lawsuit is separate from a lawsuit by several of the same companies over the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. That law, which took effect two years ago, cleared the way for the more graphic warning labels. But it also allowed the FDA to limit nicotine and banned tobacco companies from sponsoring athletic or social events or giving away free samples or branded merchandise.

A federal judge upheld many parts of the law, but the case is now pending before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

While the tobacco industry's latest legal challenge may not hold up, it could delay the new warning labels for years. And that is likely to save cigarette makers millions of dollars in lost sales and increased packaging costs.

Tobacco companies are increasingly relying on their packaging to build brand loyalty and grab consumers. It's one of few advertising levers left to them after the government curbed their presence in magazines, billboards and TV.

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HoldEverything wrote:
What is the point? If the idea is to discourage people from smoking, why beat around the bush with graphic images? The state should just ban the sale of cigarettes. Shouldn't be a problem, although the legislature would have to deal with the minions from the tobacco lobby who would be on the first flight to Hawaii fearing that a precedent would be set.
on December 24,2011 | 07:15AM
techboy57 wrote:
I used to smoke in my younger days. I knew it was bad for my health so I quit. I didn't need any pictures on the packs to scare me of what could happen if I didn't quit. If somebody want to smoke, that is their choice & they should know the risk involved.
on December 24,2011 | 07:55AM
Wazdat wrote:
ABSURD..if people don't know the risk of smoking then TOO BAD.
on December 24,2011 | 08:01AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
If the product is legal, keep the government out. How about we put pictures of open heart surgery on every Big Mac wrapper? Maybe a on obese corpse on sugary soda bottles? How about a bloody slaughter of a car wreck on each bottle of Jim Beam? This easy targeting of one industry to pay for government spending is a farce. Government hates the smokes but loves the taxes. If the idea is to stop smoking, ban the product. In Australia you cannot put any color or brand names on tobacco. Just a white box with black letters. At least then the 75% of us who don't smoke are not assaulted by the images aimed at 25% who don't care.
on December 24,2011 | 08:46AM
hnl50 wrote:
on December 24,2011 | 09:55AM
PaloloValley wrote:
Cigarette smoking is an ADDICTION. No amount of advertisements, lectures or threats can 'make' a smoker quit or rationalize them into quitting. You 'quit smoking campaigners' don't seem to understand it. I can talk about this all I want... I was a heavy, heavy smoker for 22 years and quit 'cold turkey.' The toughest thing to do , but also the stupidest thing to do was to pick up that first cigarette. Had my last cigarette on July 12, 1991. Anti-smoking campaigns don't work. After all these decades can't you come up with something new?
on December 24,2011 | 09:07AM
DTOM wrote:
Fewer choices and fewer choices. We can't let our children play with sparklers to help celebrate our "so called" freedoms on the 4th of July. Soon we will be looking at a all out ban on cell phones while we sit in bumper to bumper traffic. The government tells us how much water is allowed go down our toilets every flush and what kind of light bulbs we're allowed to have in our homes. The fact is tobacco keeps 250,000 Americans employed, that's right I said AMERICAN workers not India or China. That 250 doesn't include the ten of thousands of people employed indirectly through retail and other sources. So again it seems, the government is working overtime to get more Americans off of Corporate payrolls so they can get addicted to government hand-outs. I myself don't smoke, but I can fully appreciate and respect the indiviudal rights and responsibilities of my fellow citizens.
on December 24,2011 | 10:07AM
stanislous wrote:
Outlaw Tobacco??? Think of all the tax money we'd loose.
on December 24,2011 | 12:28PM
butinski wrote:
Make the warnings in Korean. Many Korean male visitors to Hawaii are heavy smokers. They'll all die an excruciating death soon enough but we all have to suffer till they do.
on December 24,2011 | 02:12PM
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