Big Tobacco Goes to War with FDA Over New Graphic Health Warning Labels

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration law that would force tobacco companies to place graphic health warnings on cigarette packs is meeting a lot of opposition coming from the most likely of sources — tobacco companies.

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Five tobacco companies are suing the FDA over the new law, saying that it violates their constitutional right to free speech as would require them to promote the government’s anti-smoking message. The new warnings will be required on all cigarette packs beginning in September 2012.

RJ Reynolds Tobacco (NYSE:RAI), Lorillard Tobacco (NYSE:LO), Ligget Group (NYSE:VGR), Santa Fe Natural Tobacco (NYSE:RAI), and Commonwealth Brands all filed suit against the FDA Tuesday, hoping to at least delay enforcement of the new law. RJ Reynolds brands include Camel and Winston, while Lorillard owns the Newport and True brands.

The five companies say the warning labels would make consumers “depressed, discouraged and afraid” to buy their products. “The government…can’t require a cigarette pack to serve as a mini-billboard for the government’s anti-smoking campaign,” said Floyd Abrams, one of the lawyers representing the cigarette makers. Abrams says it would violate his clients’ first amendment rights.

Tobacco makers have already taken issue with the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was passed in 2009, but failed to win their suit last year in a U.S. district court in Kentucky. The ruling is now pending a decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The new labels will cover the top half of the front and back sides of cigarette packages and 20% of the printed advertising, and could include images of dead bodies, diseased lungs, and rotten teeth. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hopes the labels will deter young people from beginning to smoke in the first place, and remind older smokers why they should quit.

Super Hot Feature: Your Cheat Sheet to the Money Gushing Tobacco Industry.