Federal Court Questions Graphic Marketing Mandates for Cigarette Packaging: As Big Tobacco Screams “Free-Speech Violation,” Panel Now Debating Whether Disturbing Package Imagery Is Genuinely About Safety — Or Whether It's Anti-Smoking Advocacy

After the government slapped Big Tobacco with demanding new marketing mandates last year, a federal appeals court is now considering the constitutionality of requiring large graphic photos on cigarette packs to show that smoking can harm or kill smokers. After some of the nation’s largest tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds, sued to block the mandate, a three-judge panel this week questioned whether the government’s proposed warnings cross from factual information into anti-smoking advocacy. The nine proposed graphic warnings include color images of a man exhaling cigarette smoke through a tracheotomy hole in his throat and a plume of cigarette smoke enveloping an infant receiving a mother’s kiss. In February, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon agreed — he blocked the requirement, saying it ran afoul of the First Amendment’s free speech protections. At this week’s hearing, judges questioned how far the government could go, such as putting graphic warnings on cars that "speed kills," an AP news release reports. One of the panelists, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, asked if the government could mandate a cigarette warning that said, "Stop! If you buy this product, you are a moron," or "Smokers are idiots." Brown also questioned if the government was on a path to put warnings on other legal products. "Where does this stop?," she asked, the AP reports. Lawyers for the tobacco companies made a similar argument in their brief. They superimposed the FDA tobacco image of a cadaver onto a McDonald’s bag with the warning that fatty foods may cause heart disease, and the FDA’s image of a premature baby in an incubator on a bottle of alcohol with a warning that drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects. They also showed a Hershey’s chocolate bar with half the wrapper covered by a picture of a mouth of rotting teeth and a warning that candy causes tooth decay. Justice Department attorney Mark Stern said those comparisons trivialized an important issue. "Addiction really means addiction," he said, and it was not like eating candy, according to the AP report.

Some other images on the revised packaging are accompanied by language that says smoking causes cancer and can harm fetuses. The warnings were to cover the entire top half of cigarette packs, front and back, and include the phone number for a stop-smoking hotline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, the AP reports.

A third judge on the panel, Judith W. Rogers, didn’t ask any questions of the Obama administration, but she grilled Noel J. Francisco, a lawyer for tobacco companies. Rogers asked Francisco if he was challenging the accuracy of the FDA’s text warnings, such as smoking causing cancer and heart disease. The lawyer said he was not, but that the government was going beyond mere facts by including a phone number to quit. "The government is trying to send a powerful message: Quit smoking now," he said. When the message tells people to live a certain way, it crosses the line from facts to advocacy, he argued, reports the article by AP writer Frederic J. Frommer.

PR Biz Update PR Agency News PR People Marketing Trends
No Preview
ReviveHealth Adds Lindsay Resnick as Executive Vice President

Building upon a tremendous year of growth for the agency, ReviveHealth,...

No Preview
Zizzo Group Hires David Koziol as New Vice President, Development

Zizzo Group announced it has named David Koziol as Vice President,...

No Preview
Ruder Finn Appoints Mary Coyle as SVP, Media Relations Strategist

Ruder Finn announced that Mary Coyle has joined the firm as...

Thought Leaders On Deadline
journalist relations, KEF Media, Kevin Foley, Marketing, media outreach, Media Relations, pitching journalists, pitching tips, Pr, PR career, PR grads, PR insights, Public relations, public relations industry
Welcome to PR, Grads! 8 Pitching Tips for PR Pros Just Starting Out

By Kevin Foley, CEO and Founder, KEF Media Thirty-five years ago,...

blog content, blog domain, blog posts, blog quality, blogging strategy, Charles Goodman, content CPR, content creation, Marketing, marketing blog, Pr, Public relations, share buttons, social media plan
What 26,000 Pitches Taught Us About Securing Top-Tier Press

By Lillian Podlog, FRACTL What 26,000 Pitches Taught Us About Securing...

Cognito, communications networking, Marketing, networking connections, networking event, networking insights, networking tips, Pr, PR networking, Public relations, Tara Lepelletier
8 Tips for Effectively Working Your Next Networking Event

By Tara Lepelletier, Business Development, Cognito Almost once a week, I...