First Amendment win: Court strikes down graphic images on cig labels

For a couple of years now, the FDA has been moving forward with new regulations that would have coerced tobacco companies into splashing some rather graphic images (you know, just some corpses and rotting teeth and whatever) on packages of cigarettes. The ostensible idea is to jar smokers into action and motivate them into quitting smoking, I suppose, but why the federal government needs to be in the business of motivating people to quit smoking — when smokers are pretty well aware of the risk and are making a personal decision about how they want to conduct their lives — I’m sure I don’t know. (Ohhhh, that’s right — universal health care. Yay.) Health advocacy groups applauded the regulations, of course, as within the interest of the general welfare, while tobacco companies and proponents of personal choice claimed the whole thing was a pretty gross assault against First-Amendment rights.

The regulations were scheduled for implementation starting in September, but for now at least, looks like the FDA’s hardcore illustrated warning labels just weren’t meant to be. The WSJ reports:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, said federal regulators fell short of meeting constitutional requirements for justifying the labeling rules. “The First Amendment requires the government not only to state a substantial interest justifying a regulation on commercial speech, but also to show that its regulation directly advances that goal,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote in the majority opinion.

The Food and Drug Administration “failed to present any data—much less the substantial evidence…showing that enacting their proposed graphic warnings will accomplish the agency’s stated objective of reducing smoking rates,” she added. …

Some legal observers said they expect the matter eventually to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. In March, a different federal appeals court largely upheld the government’s authority to regulate tobacco products, including the requirements for graphic labels, creating the type of legal conflict in the federal court system that can lead to high court review. …

This doesn’t mean the law is dead yet, but the court has put another kink in the federal government’s master plans — they’re going to have to keep fighting this thing, maybe even all the way to SCOTUS (and always remember this about the federal government’s doings: it’s all your money!). Way back when, Allahpundit wondered how much the First-Amendment argument would give the tobacco companies a leg to stand on, and it looks like it is: Regulating commercial speech is a slippery slope, made even more apparent lately by the creepin’ nanny state. Just because your heart might be in the right place, doesn’t mean you’re right.