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    FDA Fires Back in Cigarette Warning Case

    The agency argues Congress empowered it to update the existing warnings, which date back to 1984.

    SILVER SPRING, Md. -- The Food and Drug Administration is fighting back against the tobacco industry's efforts to block new cigarette health warnings.

    Last month major tobacco companies Lorillard Inc., Reynolds Tobacco Co., Commonwealth Brands Inc. and Liggett Group LLC joined forces to file suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia arguing the warning labels are a violation of free speech, as CSNews Online previously reported. As part of the suit, the companies are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the labels. Under the FDA's regulation, cigarette packs and cartons, and all cigarette advertising must display new graphic warnings by Sept. 22, 2012.

    However, in its response on Sept. 9, the FDA said that the public interest in conveying the dangers of smoking outweighs the companies' free speech rights. The agency also said the financial costs to the companies of switching to incorporate the new graphics equals about one-tenth of their annual net sales, which the FDA said is not sufficient to justify the injunction, according to the Associated Press.

    "The public interest strongly militates against delaying health warnings that more effectively convey the extraordinary, undisputed health risks created by the use of plaintiffs' products," the FDA said in its filing. "(W)hen used as intended by the manufacturers, tobacco products are deadly."

    The FDA also pointed out that Congress gave it the authority to require the new labels because existing warnings dating to 1984 were going unnoticed and health warnings weren't being conveyed effectively. The companies have until next Friday to respond. A hearing on the injunction is set Sept. 21, with a decision to come as early as October, the news outlet reported.

     

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