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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Tobacco companies have won the first round in their fight against the new graphic cigarette warning labels that are set to go into effect next September.
In a ruling this morning, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon granted a temporary injunction blocking the rules requiring the new warning labels that use graphic images. Leon's decision came as he determined that the tobacco companies -- namely R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Inc., Commonwealth Brands Inc. and Liggett Group LLC -- would likely win their lawsuit challenging the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) requirement as unconstitutional, according to a report by Reuters.
"We are pleased with the judge's ruling and look forward to the court's final resolution of this case," an R.J. Reynolds spokesperson told CSNews Online.
The FDA approved the nine warnings -- a combination of text and graphic photographs -- in June, and mandated that the new labels must be depicted on all cigarette packs and advertising by September 2012.
As a result, the four tobacco companies took up a legal challenge on the grounds that the new warnings violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment. They contended it was unconstitutional to force tobacco companies to disseminate the government’s anti-smoking message, as CSNews Online reported in August.
However, in response to the suit, the FDA said the public interest in conveying the dangers of smoking outweighs the companies' free speech rights. 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 tobacco companies gained support in September when two advertising groups, the Association of National Advertisers and the American Advertising Federation, filed briefs in the suit. The groups argued that the labels infringe on commercial free speech and could lead to further government intrusion if left unchallenged.
Floyd Abrams, a partner in the New York law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel, who is representing Lorillard, said: "Today's ruling reaffirms fundamental First Amendment principles by rejecting the notion that the government may require those who sell lawful products to adults to urge current and prospective purchasers not to purchase those products."