A federal judge ruled in favor of tobacco companies on Wednesday, saying the Food and Drug Administration had no right to require new, graphic pictures on cigarette packages.
Medical groups immediately protested against U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s ruling, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Congress wouldn't give up. "Today’s decision in favor of tobacco companies and their profit margins is a disappointment, but we will not be deterred in our efforts to make Americans – particularly our young people – aware of the dangers of this product,” Harkin said in a statement.
Christopher Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, called the ruling "a victory for Big Tobacco."
"Larger, graphic warning labels have the potential to encourage adults to quit smoking cigarettes and deter children from starting in the first place," Hansen said in a statement.
But Leon said the federal government didn’t make a strong case. "The government has failed to carry both its burden of demonstrating a compelling interest and its burden of demonstrating that the rule is narrowly tailored to achieve a constitutionally permissible form of compelled commercial speech," Leon wrote in his ruling.
"Congress did, in fact, carefully consider the First Amendment issues involved and carefully tailored the legislation to ensure the FDA could act as it has proposed with graphic warning labels for tobacco products," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in a statement.
"I expect the decision will be appealed, and on further judicial review, the constitutionality of these public health protections will be affirmed," added Waxman, ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Judge Leon’s dangerous ruling blatantly ignores significant scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of larger, graphic warning labels in communicating the health dangers of tobacco use," said Dr. Robert Block, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "With 10 million cigarettes sold every minute and almost 3,000 children under the age of 18 starting to smoke each day, this ruling puts children’s lives at risk.”
Leon blocked the rule in November while he studied the case.
“I am pleased that the Department of Justice has already appealed Judge Leon’s previous injunction and encourage the Department of Justice to appeal this ruling as well," said Harkin, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The Health and Human Services Department indicated the government would. "This administration is determined to do everything we can to warn young people about the dangers of smoking, which remains the leading cause of preventable death in America," HHS said in a statement.
"We are confident that efforts to stop these important warnings from going forward will ultimately fail.”