(CN) – A federal judge in Kentucky has ruled that tobacco companies can be forced to put stronger warning labels on the top half of tobacco products by 2013 – but the messages don’t have to be in black text on a white background as a new federal law suggests.
Fearful that tobacco companies were using light colors in ad campaigns to make their tobacco products appear to be “light” and “low tar,” lawmakers passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which “significantly curtails the ability of tobacco manufacturers to market their products.”
The new law, signed by President Obama in June 2009, would limit tobacco’s advertising to black text on a white background. It also would require tobacco companies to print new warnings on the top half of both sides of all cigarette packages with messages like, “Cigarettes cause cancer,” in 17-point font. It also ordered that all packaging must include “color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking.”
Tobacco companies argued that such images weren’t necessary because everyone knows of the health risks of smoking.
In his 47-page ruling, Judge Joseph McKinley Jr. upheld the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to restrict tobacco marketing. He also upheld a ban on marketing tobacco to children.
But McKinley said tobacco companies can use images and colors of their choosing to show “what the product is and who makes it,” and that no evidence was provided to suggest that colors and logos were considered to be “problematic associative advertising techniques aimed at minors.”
The judge also said consumers too-often ignore the small health warnings on tobacco products, and that Congress’ intention was to issue bolder warnings to get the public’s attention.
“The government’s goal is not to stigmatize the use of tobacco products on the industry’s dime,” he wrote. “It is to ensure that the health risk message is actually seen by consumers in the first instance.”