SmokingA U.S. Appeals Court threw out “one of the best tools we have” to combat smoking when it struck down FDA requirements for large graphic warning labels with on cigarette packages, according to American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown.

In a 2-1 decision, the court said federal regulators did not meet constitutional criteria for justifying the labeling rules. The labels would have contained images showing diseased lungs and a man blowing smoke out of a hole in his neck, among others.

"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 (no relation) wrote in the majority opinion. Judge Brown added that the FDA failed to present evidence showing that the graphic warnings would accomplish the agency's stated objective of reducing smoking rates.

The AHA’s Brown was sharply critical of the decision, charging that the judges “have thrown out one of the best tools we have to force smokers to face the consequences of their choice, and stop the industry from addicting a new generation. The court has, in effect, insulted the intelligence of all Americans by implying we cannot distinguish the meaning of graphic tobacco warning labels.”

The effects of smoking on health in U.S.

According to the Surgeon General, the decline in smoking is stalled, and more young Americans are using tobacco products.  Each of the 1,200 Americans who die from tobacco-related diseases every day are being replaced by two smokers under the age of 26. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 45.3 million adult Americans smoked cigarettes. In the U.S., about one-third of smoking-related deaths are linked to heart disease and stroke.

“Graphic tobacco labels would help us stop this tragic trajectory,” said the AHA’s Brown. “Research indicates that these vivid images are very effective in heightening awareness about the dangers of smoking and halting tobacco use. “

The AHA expressed the hope that the decision is overturned on appeal.