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Tobacco Industry Spurned by Top Court on Package Warnings

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a tobacco industry challenge to a federal law that requires bigger, graphic health warnings on cigarette packages and imposes new marketing restrictions.

The justices today left intact a lower court ruling that said the 2009 measure didn’t violate the free-speech rights of tobacco companies. The cigarette makers challenging the law included Reynolds American Inc.’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and a Lorillard Inc. subsidiary.

The law requires that half of the front and back panels of cigarette packages be devoted to warnings. The measure also instructed the Food and Drug Administration to develop color graphics that would become part of the warnings.

In addition, the law sets out rules governing the use of the words “light” and “low” in product descriptions and limits promotional practices including event sponsorships.

The appeal before the high court didn’t directly challenge the nine graphic images selected by the FDA to be placed on cigarette packages and advertisements. Those images included a man expelling cigarette smoke from a hole in his throat, diseased lungs and a cadaver.

A separate federal appeals court blocked the FDA’s proposed images, and the Obama administration chose to come up with a new approach rather than appeal to the Supreme Court.

The case acted on today is American Snuff v. United States, 12-521.

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