Five of the six large U.S. tobacco companies are suing the federal government over new graphic labels required on cigarette packages starting in September 2012, claiming the images of dead and diseased smokers amount to unconstitutional "compelled speech." The companies, led by Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds, argue that since their product is legal, the government has no right to "require a cigarette pack to serve as a mini-billboard for the government's antismoking campaign." Do they have a case?
Cigarette firms are being unfairly singled out: Everyone knows smoking can be deadly, says Sheila Marshall in The Thomaston, Ga., Times. But "believe it or not, folks, there are more things in this life that are detrimental to good health than smoking cigarettes." Where are the grotesque labels on ice cream cones, french fries, video games, and alcohol, for instance? It is wrong to "place such a stigma only on tobacco companies."
Big Tobacco is pushing its luck: Cigarette makers should be thanking the government, says the Springfield, Ill., State Journal-Register in an editorial. No other product that, "used as directed, will kill its user" has ever been allowed to stay on the market. Asbestos and lead paint certainly weren't so lucky. These labels are "a reasonable compromise that recognizes both the health hazards of smoking" and the impossibility of banning cigarettes outright.
"No merit in suit filed by tobacco companies"
The complaints prove the labels are effective: Big Tobacco didn't object to printed warnings that have been federally mandated since 1965, says Melissa Healy in the Los Angeles Times. Why? They didn't work. So the fact that the companies are calling foul now means they believe the new labels will "get a rise out of smokers," as similar graphic images did in Canada. That makes this one public-health campaign worth fighting for.
"Cigarette label rules: Legitimate warning or 'compelled speech'?"