The US government is abandoning a legal battle to require that cigarette packs carry a set of large and often macabre warning labels depicting the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit.
Instead, the Food and Drug Administration will go back to the drawing board and create labels to replace those that included images of diseased lungs and the sewn-up corpse of a smoker, according to a letter from Attorney General Eric
The government had until Monday to ask the US Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision upholding a ruling that the requirement violated First Amendment free speech protections.
"In light of these circumstances, the Solicitor General has determined ... not to seek Supreme Court review of the First Amendment issues at the present time," Holder wrote in a Friday letter to House Speaker John Boehner notifying him of the decision.
Some of the nation's largest tobacco companies, including R J Reynolds Tobacco Co, sued to block the mandate to include warnings on cigarette packs as part of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that, for the first time, gave the federal government authority to regulate tobacco. The nine labels originally set to appear on store shelves last year would've represented the biggest change in cigarette packs in the US in 25 years.
Tobacco companies increasingly rely on their packaging to build brand loyalty and grab consumers one of the few advertising levers left to them after the government curbed their presence in magazines, billboards and TV. They had argued that the proposed warnings went beyond factual information into anti-smoking advocacy.
The government, however, argued the images were factual in conveying the dangers of tobacco, which is responsible for about 443,000 deaths in the US a year.
The nine graphic warnings proposed by the FDA included colour images of a man exhaling cigarette smoke through a tracheotomy hole in his throat, and a plume of cigarette smoke enveloping an infant receiving a mother's kiss. These were accompanied by assertions that smoking causes cancer and can harm foetuses.
The warnings were to cover the entire top half of cigarette packs, front and back, and include the phone number for a stop-smoking hotline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
In a statement yesterday, the FDA said it would "undertake research to support a new rulemaking consistent with the Tobacco Control Act." The FDA did not provide a timeline for the revised labels.