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Two Silver Linings to Graphic Warnings Decision

As anyone who follows tobacco-related news now knows, last Friday an appeals court upheld a lower court ruling striking down the FDA’s proposed graphic warnings for cigarette packages. In a 2-1 decision, the court found that the warnings violated “corporate speech” rights. The finding places the rights of tobacco companies to market an addictive and deadly product over the rights of people to be fully informed of the consequences. If the decision stands, there can be no doubt that lives will be lost because of it.

Those of us who place life higher than corporate profit can find some solace. First, a different appeals court in Cincinnati came to the opposite conclusion in March, which means that the Supreme Court is very likely to hear the case (assuming the FDA appeals). We can’t be sure how the highest court will rule, of course, but a number of legal scholars have opined that the case against the warnings is flawed.

Second, there was an excellent opinion from the dissenting judge:

“The government has an interest of paramount importance in effectively conveying information about the health risks of smoking to adolescent would-be smokers and other consumers.”

Given that the tobacco industry has already been found guilty of criminal racketeering in their efforts to hide the health impacts of their products, this opinion makes a lot more sense than protecting criminals’ rights to free speech.