The cigarette manufacturers suing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over new requirements that they print graphic warning labels filed a request Friday afternoon for a preliminary injunction postponing the date the new rules go into effect.
The warnings aren't set to go into effect until September 2012, but the companies argue in the motion (PDF)motion that they will have to start producing the new packaging much sooner, spending "millions of dollars and thousands of employee-hours to comply with a regulation despite the substantial chance that the regulation is constitutionally invalid."
The largest of the plaintiff corporations, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., notes as an example that it has already spent $1.5 million on new engraving equipment, and estimates it will need to spend at least $10 million on designing and producing the labels.
The companies also filed a motion for summary judgment (PDF) this afternoon.
The plaintiffs are five of the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturers, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Inc., Commonwealth Brands, Inc., Liggett Group LLC, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company. Lead counsel is Floyd Abrams of New York’s Cahill, Gordon & Reindel.
The companies accuse the agency of overstepping by requiring the new warning labels, which depict graphic images showing the risks associated with smoking, such as a picture of a diseased lung or a body lying on an autopsy table. The labels also include the phone number for a quitting hotline.
Abrams has said the new requirements are a violation of the First Amendment. The companies are arguing that the government cannot force the manufacturers to actively advise consumers not to buy their product. The traditional warning labels, they argue, contained uncontroversial statements of fact, as opposed to the new, emotionally-charged images.
The agency has declined to comment on the pending litigation. A status conference is scheduled for Aug. 23 before U.S. District Judge Richard Leon.