Lorillard Sues FDA Over Cigarette Warnings

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Lorillard ( LO), Reynolds American ( RAI) unit R.J. Reynolds and other top tobacco makers are suing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, alleging that new graphic labeling rules are unconstitutional.

Lorillard, Reynolds, Liggett Group and Imperial Tobacco Group's ( ITYBY) Commonwealth Brands said the recently announced warning labels, which depict the negative health effects of smoking and will be required on all cigarette packages by Sept. 22, 2012, violate their right to free speech under the First Amendment, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in Washington this week.

Lorillard said requiring cigarette makers to display one of the nine new warning labels on each package is "an unconstitutional way of forcing tobacco manufacturers to disseminate the government's anti-smoking message."

"The regulations violate the First Amendment," said Lorillard's attorney, Floyd Abrams, a partner in the New York law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel. "The notion that the government can require those who manufacture a lawful product to emblazon half of its package with pictures and words admittedly drafted to persuade the public not to purchase that product cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny. The government can engage in as much anti-smoking advocacy as it chooses in whatever language and with whatever pictures it chooses; it cannot force those who lawfully sell tobacco to the public to carry that message, those words, and those pictures."

The graphic labels, which tobacco makers will be required to put on cigarette packs sold in the United States next year, depict disturbing images such as a corpse, diseased lungs, rotting teeth, a man suffering a stroke and another of a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his neck. The new labels, which the FDA unveiled in June, are expected to prompt 213,000 people to quit smoking by 2013, the government agency said.

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