A Board of Health directive that would require any retailers selling cigarettes to display graphic warning signs about the dangers of smoking, including information on where to seek help quitting. In a decision handed down yesterday, U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff ruled that only the federal government can dictate warnings that must accompany the promotion of cigarettes. "Even merchants of morbidity are entitled to the full protection of the law, for our sake as well as theirs," Rakoff wrote. But although big tobacco argued that the requirement would have violated their free speech rights, Rakoff said this isn't a first amendment thing.
Judge Rakoff acknowledged cigarettes' health impact, noting that in New York City, "roughly 7,500 people die from smoking annually — more than from AIDS, homicide and suicide combined." But his ruling centered on a 1965 federal law, the Labeling Act, which gave the federal government exclusive authority over cigarette warnings. The Times reports that the Labeling Act prohibits state laws from conflicting with the federal government’s policies on cigarette warnings and ads. And the Feds are already rolling out their own attention-grabbing anti-smoking initiative: The FDA will soon roll out graphic warning labels that will cover half a package's front and back, and the top 20% of all cigarette ads.
Cigarette manufacturers' R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and Lorillard filed the lawsuit, along with two Queens convenience stores and two retail groups. The rules would have gone into effect this weekend, but some retailers had already voluntarily put up the signs. Floyd Abrams, a lawyer who represented store owners, tells the AP the ruling will come as a relief to these store owners, whom he claims have lost business from nonsmokers who "didn’t want to look at disgusting images" as they bought other items.
The city has vowed to appeal, and Health Department said in a statement that it was “disappointed in and strongly disagrees with today’s ruling. Tobacco companies that are trying to prevent these messages from being seen should be ashamed of themselves."