Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
US court rules against tobacco warnings -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

EMILY BOURKE: Days after Australia's plain packaging laws for cigarettes came into force, a court in the United States has once again blocked the government from compelling tobacco companies to put graphic warning labels on American cigarette packets.

A Federal Appeals Court hasn't given a reason for denying the government's request to reconsider an earlier ruling that the health warnings were not required.

The US government now has 90 days to decide whether to take the case to the Supreme Court.

From Washington, Kim Landers reports.

KIM LANDERS: While an estimated 45 million Americans smoke, smoking rates have fallen dramatically - down from about 40 per cent in the 1970s to 19 per cent now.

US authorities want to shock more people into giving up by putting nine graphic images onto cigarette packets.

They include a smoker exhaling through a tracheotomy hole, a person lying dead on a table with a long chest scar and a diseased lung.

The warnings were to cover the entire top half of cigarette packs, front and back. Each cigarette brand would have to rotate all the images randomly through the year.

But five US tobacco companies launched legal action arguing the proposed warnings went beyond factual information and they won.

The court ruled the labels violated free speech and that the Food and Drug Administration had not provided "a shred of evidence" that the graphic labels would reduce smoking.

Today, an appeals court has upheld that ruling.

STANTON GLANTZ: Australia is leading the world now with plain packaging and the United States is really coming up way at the end of the train with weak warning labels just on the side of the packages.

KIM LANDERS: Stanton Glantz is a professor of medicine and director of the Centre for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

He says the US Food and Drug Administration made a mistake by also trying to have the quit smoking hotline on the packets - a move he says the courts consider an infringement on political speech.

STANTON GLANTZ: Neither the trial court nor the court of appeals ruled that the government is not allowed to require warning, you know, graphic warning labels on the front of cigarette packages that were not all that different than the kind of thing that Australia has been doing for a very long time. The courts ruled that the specific way that the government required the warning labels and the specific justification that the government gave for the warning labels was not appropriate.

KIM LANDERS: While the US government decides whether to take the cigarette warning case to the Supreme Court, Professor Glantz says it might be easier to try to follow Australia's lead and introduce plain packaging.

STANTON GLANTZ: You know, I'm sure that as evidenced by how hard the tobacco companies fought plain packaging in Australia, they would, you know, go nuts over that here but in going and requiring plain packaging, you're not dictating the content of the package anymore. You're just saying it to be a plain package.

KIM LANDERS: Warning labels first appeared on US cigarette packs in 1965 and the current warning labels that feature a small box with text were put on in the mid-1980s.

Matthew Myers, who's the president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, is urging the US government to take the case to the Supreme Court.

MATTHEW MYERS: It is extraordinarily frustrating that a court in the United States has interpreted the first amendment, free speech protection in a way never before done in order to protect the tobacco industry. I'm hopeful our Supreme Court will change that ruling and do so decisively.

KIM LANDERS: There has been no response yet from the tobacco companies to today's court ruling.

This is Kim Landers in Washington for The World Today.