The US Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that said these graphic warnings ran afoul of the US Constitution’€™s free speech protection. The finding means it is likely that the issue will ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court.

Tobacco companies took legal steps to block the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandate to include warnings to show the dangers of smoking. The tobacco industry argued that the warnings went beyond factual information into anti-smoking advocacy.

The graphic warnings proposed by the FDA include colour 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. These are accompanied by language and were to cover the entire top half of cigarette packs, front and back.

The US government argued that these photos are factual in conveying the dangers of tobacco.

In recent years, more than 40 countries or jurisdictions have introduced labels similar to those created by the FDA. The World Health Organisation said in a survey done in countries with graphic labels that a majority of smokers noticed the warnings and more than 25 percent said the warnings led them to consider quitting.

“While the tobacco industry has grown increasingly aggressive in preying upon the American public with misleading and fraudulent marketing practices over several decades, the warning labels have not been changed in 25 years,” said John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society.

“Tobacco companies are fighting the graphic warnings precisely because they know such warnings are effective,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “The companies continue to spend billions of dollars to play down the health risks of smoking and glamorise tobacco use. These new warnings will tell the truth about how deadly and unglamorous cigarette smoking truly is.”

Warning labels first appeared on US cigarette packs in 1965, and current warning labels that feature a small box with text were put on cigarette packs in the mid-1980s. Changes to more graphic warning labels that feature colour images of the negative effects of tobacco use were mandated in a law passed in 2009. The labels are a part of the requirements of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed into law in 2009 by President Barack Obama. For the first time, the law gave the FDA significant control over tobacco products.

Earlier this month the Australian high court dismissed the tobacco industry’€™s challenge to the new ‘€œplain packaging law’€ that requires all cigarettes packaging in Australia will be sold in drab dark brown packs with no trademark brand logos. Companies will be able to print their name and the cigarette brand in a small, prescribed font on the packets. The boxes will carry stark health warning messages and pictures, which will cover 75 percent of the front of the pack and 90 percent of the back.

After the Australian government’€™s successful implementation of the plain packaging law, more countries are expected to follow their example. South Africa’€™s Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, also expressed his intention to implement the law in the near future.    

Sources: Sapa/HealthDay News

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