A D.C. federal judge denied Philip Morris USA Inc.’s motion to block a U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirement for graphic warning labels on cigarettes, saying the rule’s effective date has already been pushed out a year but said the request could be brought again later.
The tobacco giant asked to keep the preliminary injunction motion on ice while a Texas federal judge considers a similar challenge to the FDA’s final rule, but U.S. District Judge Florence Y. Pan said there is no immediacy to address the issue when the compliance deadline was recently kicked nearly a year down the road to Oct. 11, 2022.
Philip Morris and Sherman Group Holdings LLC — which are owned by Altria Group Inc. — sued the FDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May 2020, challenging the March 2020 rule that requires cigarette manufacturers to prominently display graphic warnings on their packaging and advertisements.
Some of the warnings include an image of a woman with a tumor protruding from her neck and the text “Warning: Smoking causes head and neck cancer,” and another image of a crying baby and the text: “Warning: Smoking during pregnancy stunts fetal growth.”
Cigarette manufacturers would have to dedicate at least the top 50% of the front and back of all packaging and the top 20% of all advertising to the warnings. The company said the rule violates manufacturers’ right to free speech.
The government argued that it can require manufacturers of dangerous products to warn the public “about the very dangers they are responsible for creating.” The warnings describe some of the serious, but lesser-known, health consequences of smoking.
The new rule follows provisions of the Tobacco Control Act that reflect Congress’ judgments about the content and placement of cigarette health warnings.
The dueling motions, which included Philip Morris’ request for a preliminary injunction, were fully briefed by February and a hearing was set for the preliminary injunction issue. But when Judge Barker in Texas delayed in March the rule’s effective date to April 14, 2022, the D.C. court paused the summary judgment and preliminary injunction motions.