The FDA backtracks on labels, Big Tobacco drops its suit. America’s three largest tobacco giants, Phillip Morris USA (owned by Altria Group, Inc.), RJ Reynolds (owned by Reynolds American) and Marlboro, Camel & Newport (owned by Lorillard Tobacco) sued the FDA for overstepping its bounds by considering requiring approval for label changes such as logos, colors and descriptors like “premium tobacco.”
The suit, filed in federal court in D.C., claimed that the agency was violating Big Tobacco’s First Amendment commercial speech rights. Plaintiffs backed up the allegation by pointing out that the 2009 Tobacco Control Act only empowered the FDA to require label pre-approval in two areas: when required by federal regulation and for products that claimed to lower tobacco-related risks.
The FDA backtracked, saying it would not bother companies whose label changes created “distinct” products that are exactly the same as current products or changed the quantity in each package. While the suit has been dropped, the FDA is still considering whether new label approval policies are needed
I’m not a big fan of Big Tobacco, but I have to give them this one. We need stricter labels for tobacco products, but the way the FDA was going about it was wrong. The law doesn’t give them the power (yet) to do what they wanted to do. So, this one goes to the bad guys, but I’m hopeful that somewhere down the road, things shift and this runaway industry will be reined in, as it should’ve been years ago and as it was recently in Canada.