(CN) – A federal judge in Kentucky rejected tobacco companies’ request to block new restrictions on marketing, including their use of the terms “low tar” and “light” on cigarette labels.
U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr. declined to issue a preliminary injunction, saying the companies “have little likelihood of success” in challenging a provision of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act, signed by President Obama in June.
The contested provision bars the introduction of any “modified risk tobacco product” without prior approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Such products are defined as any tobacco product that’s “sold or distributed for use to reduce harm or the risk of tobacco-related disease.”
Congress passed the law in an effort to crack down on what it viewed as misleading tobacco advertising, including labels with the terms “light” or “low tar,” implying the products are healthier than others.
“The dangers of products sold or distributed as modified risk tobacco products that do not in fact reduce risk are so high that there is a compelling governmental interest in ensuring that statements about modified risk tobacco products are complete, accurate, and relate to the overall disease risk of the product,” the government argued.
R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and other tobacco companies sued in Bowling Green, Ky., claiming the law bars them from using “color lettering, trademarks, logos or any other imagery in most advertisements, including virtually all point-of-sale and direct-mail advertisements” in violation of the First Amendment.
And because the provision bars them from making any statements about the relative health risks of their tobacco products, the companies said it effectively bars them from “making truthful statements about their products in scientific, public policy and political debates.”
But Judge McKinley said it “seems likely that (the provision’s) restrictions on speech are constitutionally permissible.”
The tobacco giants argued that they can’t be banned from printing the true statements that their products are free of a substance or have lower amounts of it.
“The basic flaw in Plaintiffs’ argument is that a claim may be absolutely true and still be misleading,” McKinley wrote.
He said the law legitimately curbs tobacco companies from touting the supposed “benefits” of products that are still harmful.