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Five tobacco companies are suing the federal government over graphic cigarette warning labels that are scheduled to be on all packages by the fall of 2012. The manufacturers claim the labels violate First Amendment protections for commercial speech, The New York Times reports.

The new cigarette labels, mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), carry graphic images of the consequences of smoking, including diseased lungs and rotting teeth. The new labels are a result of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA authority to regulate the content, marketing and sale of tobacco products. The law requires the FDA to issue final regulations requiring color graphics illustrating the ugly consequences of smoking by June 22, 2011.

The FDA will require that the disturbing pictures cover at least half of the front and back of a cigarette package by October 2012. The FDA will also require that the images take up to at least 20 percent of each cigarette ad.

“The government can require warnings which are straightforward and essentially uncontroversial, but they can’t require a cigarette pack to serve as a mini-billboard for the government’s antismoking campaign,” Floyd Abrams, a lawyer for one of the tobacco companies, Lorillard, told the newspaper.


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