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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says it will continue to press for graphic warning labels on cigarette packages, despite the ruling of a federal judge this week that the images on the labels violate free speech protected by the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on Wednesday blocked the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) requirement that tobacco companies add graphic warning labels to cigarette packages by September 2012. The labels are meant to inform the public of the dangers of smoking, CBS News reports.

“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 stated in a news release. “This public health initiative will be an effective tool in our efforts to stop teenagers from starting in the first place and taking up this deadly habit. We are confident that efforts to stop these important warnings from going forward will ultimately fail.”

Judge Leon temporarily blocked the label requirements in November. The Obama Administration appealed the ruling. In February, Judge Leon suggested that requiring the warning labels could violate tobacco companies’ free speech rights.

This week, he wrote the images on the cigarette labels “were neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks; rather, they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking,” according to the article. He said the government can use alternate means of dissuading people from smoking, including advertising, raising tobacco taxes, and improving ways to reduce youth access to tobacco.

The labels include graphic images of the consequences of smoking, including diseased lungs and rotting teeth. The FDA wants the disturbing pictures to cover at least half of the front and back of a cigarette package. The FDA also said the images must take up to at least 20 percent of each cigarette ad.


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