Cigarette Warning Labels: US Bows To UN’s (Unconstitutional?) Demand

Changes are coming to cigarette packs in the United States. The FDA has issued new graphic warnings labels and is requiring the tobacco industry to display them on the top half of every cigarette pack. The new labels go into effect September 22, 2011.

The change is in response to the World Health Organization’s treaty on tobacco. The World Health Organization is the United Nation’s public health arm.  The treaty requires 35% of the package to contain pictures and warnings. Nineteen countries have not complied so far, including the United States. The new labels will make the country compliant. See all nine labels at fda.gov.

The tobacco industry, however, is calling the new labels unconstitutional. According to a statement made by R.J. Reynolds, “The anti-smoking message is not intended to provide information that smokers and potential smokers can consider rationally in weighing the risks and perceived benefits from smoking. Rather, it plainly conveys — through graphic images and designs intended to elicit loathing, disgust, and repulsion — the Government’s viewpoint that the risks associated with smoking cigarettes outweigh the pleasure that smokers derive from them and, therefore, that no one should use these lawful products.”

Philip Morris is also speaking out about the constitutionality of the new FDA warnings. In a written statement, the company said, “Any government requirement that compels a private entity to carry a message not of its own choosing raises constitutional concerns … To the extent that FDA were to select warnings based on their ability to evoke negative or cognitive reactions –not their ability to objectively inform consumers about the health risks of smoking — such warnings would not pass constitutional muster.”

Although the FDA designed the graphic warnings, the tobacco industry will pay the cost of adding the new labels. According to Thomas Glenn, the director of science for the American Cancer Society, the expense is money well spent.

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