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Justices decline to hear challenge to tobacco law

by
Titletown Tobacco
Titletown Tobacco

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a tobacco industry challenge to a federal law that expanded restrictions on the advertising and marketing of cigarettes.

The provisions of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act under attack included one requiring the display of a large health warning on packaging and another banning the sponsorship of public events.

The law also requires that before a tobacco product can be marketed, the manufacturer must prove to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it is less dangerous than other tobacco products. This provision is aimed at descriptive marketing terms such as "light" and "mild."

Those challenging the provisions of the law included companies owned in part or in full by Reynolds American Inc, British American Tobacco Plc, Imperial Tobacco Group Plc and Lorillard Inc.

The companies claimed the law violates the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech, imposing "myriad restrictions on truthful, non-misleading speech to adult tobacco consumers."

In response, the Obama administration noted in court papers that the law was specifically drafted to battle a recognized public health problem. Congress was particularly interested in restricting the marketing of cigarettes to young people, government lawyers wrote.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in full, saying the warnings "are reasonably related to the government's interest in preventing consumer deception."

The case is distinct from a separate industry challenge to regulations the FDA issued to implement the graphic warning requirement. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed out the regulation. The FDA is currently drafting a new one.

The case is American Snuff Company v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-521.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller, Gerald E. McCormick and John Wallace)

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