Big Tobacco Says Anti-Smoking Ads Violate First Amendment Rights
It’s not easy to picture the big tobacco companies in the role of victim.
Philip Morris USA, Lorillard Inc., and RJ Reynolds Tobacco are suing New York City for violating their First Amendment rights by mandating anti-smoking advertisements, alleging that the city law restricts their ability to communicate about lawful products.
Reuters reported that the lawsuit reads, “The government may not force private parties to carry messages beyond purely uncontroversial factual statements that are designed to prevent consumer deception.”
The suit, filed Thursday, claims the regulation goes against U.S. Supreme Court rulings in other tobacco cases that federal labeling regulations prevent local governments, as in this case, from interfering with cigarette advertising.
The companies, along with state retail associations, want a court order to stop New York from enforcing the law.
The New York City Health Department developed the somewhat graphic anti-smoking signs and requires anyone selling cigarettes to consumers to display at least one poster near the cash register or the cigarettes or face a $2,000 fine.
The signs point to the harmful effects of smoking and include a helpline for people who want to quit.
New York City has already banned smoking in bars and restaurants. The Health Department is working hard to get its message out, and the graphic displays at point-of-purchase are just the latest weapon in the battle.
Warnings do serve to remind people of the dangers of smoking. Is NYC wrong to mandate that tobacco sellers warn customers of these health risks?
Is the tobacco industry trying to suppress important health information from potential customers, or is big tobacco the victim of unfair local practices?