Democrats vow to move ahead on cigarette warnings despite legal setback

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"These provisions were informed by scientific evidence showing that current warning labels have run their course and that labels with graphic warnings would be more effective in protecting the public's health from tobacco's addictive and toxic qualities," Waxman said. "Congress did, in fact, carefully consider the First Amendment issues involved and carefully tailored the legislation to ensure the FDA could act as it has proposed with graphic warning labels for tobacco products.

"I expect the decision will be appealed, and on further judicial review, the constitutionality of these public health protections will be affirmed - as they have been by another district court.”

The new labeling rules were called for under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA the power to regulate tobacco. The law passed with broad bipartisan support in the House and Senate. 

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon of the Washington, D.C., district court ruled Wednesday in favor of five tobacco companies that argued that the regulations would require them to participate in a government advocacy campaign. Leon had already granted a preliminary injunction postponing the new labeling rules last November.

"It is clear that the government's actual purpose is not to inform or educate, but rather to advocate a change in behavior — specifically, to encourage smoking cessation and to discourage potential new smokers from starting," Leon ruled.

Leon's ruling conflicts with a 2010 decision by Kentucky federal judge Joseph McKinley, who upheld the regulations. Wednesday's decision is expected to be appealed and could end up before the Supreme Court.

This post was updated at 1:45 p.m.