Federal judge says anti-smoking images are First Amendment violation

Anti-smoking campaigns had a big win a few years ago, when a federal mandate requiring tobacco companies to place graphic images on their products was instituted. Already popular in countries like the U.K. and the European Union, the ads are only the latest big push to warn the public of the dangers of smoking.

The bill, titled The Family Smoking Prevention and Tabacco Control Act, passed in 2009 and would have required alternating images, such as healthy versus smoke-infected lungs, a child surrounded by smoke and a smoker with a hole in the throat. They would also be required to include one of nine warnings, like "cigarettes are addictive" and "tobacco smoke causes harm to children".

But now a federal judge is blocking the ruling, saying that the anti-smoking ads are a violation of free speech.


In his 19-page ruling, federal Judge Richard Leon said:

Unfortunately, because Congress did not consider the First Amendment implications of this legislation, it did not concern itself with how the regulations could be narrowly tailored to avoid unintentionally compelling commercial speech. The graphic images here were neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks. Rather they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking.

I'm not sure why he thinks that the ads do not increase consumer awareness of smoking risks. Has it not been proven over and over again that second hand smoke can kill? And, in particular, that smoking is harmful to children? The First Amendment argument is that the warnings may not be factual.

Well, someone needs to send a memo to the judge that the Office of the Surgeon General, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, warns against the harm that children can suffer from secondhand smoke, including pneumonia, frequent and severe asthma attacks, ear infections that may require an operation and babies being born with weaker lungs. The report says that "even brief exposure can be harmful."

The judge needs to take a much harder look at the scientific evidence behind these anti-smoking graphic ads instead of listening to the group of tobacco companies trying to sue. Tabacco smoke is dangerous and we need to do everything we can to prevent our children from being exposed, even if it means looking at unpleasant images as you smoke. Just don't come near the kids.

What do you think of a judge ruling against the anti-smoking graphic ads?

Images via FDA