Those who follow efforts to use law to reduce smoking will be aware the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found in R.J. Reynolds v. FDA, 696 F.3d 1215 (D.C. Cir. 2012) that mandatory graphic imagery on cigarette packs was a violation of commercial speech rights. As a result of the decision, cigarette packs continue to have only prosaic warnings, which go not only unread but also, for the most part, unnoticed.
Foreign countries, of course, are not bound by U.S. law, and Uruguay forged ahead with its own laws requiring graphic warnings. They include photos of decaying teeth, premature babies, and disturbing hospital scenes, with each picture covering 80 percent of each pack. Big Tobacco cannot invoke its commercial speech rights in Uruguay, but Philip Morris has sued Uruguay for $25 million, alleging the required warnings violate treaties protecting intellectual property rights.
The case is in the courts, with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg paying many of Uruguay’s legal costs. Smoking is on the rise in developing countries, and many think the decision in Uruguay will have significant impact on other developing countries’ willingness to require graphic warnings.
For my own part, I strongly endorse the required graphic warnings in the name of social justice. Smoking in both the United States and abroad is increasingly concentrated among poor and working-class men and women, and the health problems associated with smoking are also greater in these sectors of the world population. For the poor and members of the working class, reading skills and even any interest in written texts are limited, but poor and working-class smokers are aware of and receptive to visual imagery. If they could literally see what smoking causes, they might fight harder to break their deathly, addictive habit.