Federal court to ponder graphic cigarette labels

WASHINGTON, DC (CBS News) – Lawyers for tobacco companies and the government are going to court Tuesday over those graphic cigarette warning labels intended to scare away potential smokers.

The cigarette makers say the warnings violate their first amendment rights.

Those images are intended to be shocking: a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his windpipe, a pair of diseased lungs next to a healthy pair, the sewn-up body of a man who died of lung cancer.

Tthe Food and Drug Administration ordered tobacco companies to place these images on cigarette packs as part of its aggressive effort to convince Americans, especially children and teens, not to smoke.

“It’s been proven in study after study that these images deter young people from starting to smoke, from buying a cigarette package,” said TobaccoFree.org’s Patrick Reynolds.

However, a federal judge ruled that forcing tobacco companies to use the images violates their constitutional right to free speech in February. The Obama administration appealed.

Tuesday the cigarette companies will argue that the government cannot force them to display disturbing images that are even more prominent than their own labels.

“The Supreme Court has said that the government cannot manipulate speech in this way to try to put the thumb on the scales to get people to do what they want and not make their own choices in the market place,” said the Association Of National Advertisers’ Dan Jaffe.

But anti-smoking activists argue that the public interest in convincing people not to smoke — even with powerful images — outweighs whatever free speech rights are at stake.

“It’s time to have some counter advertising right on the side of the cigarette packages to give consumers a voice and to give some balance to the glamorous… the glamorization of tobacco,” said Reynolds.

What do you think? Should the graphic warning labels be allowed — or do they just go too far? Vote in our poll below, leave a comment or sound off on the CBS 6 Facebook page.