NEW YORK (AP) — The city’s campaign to scare smokers with grotesque images of decaying teeth or a diseased lung wherever tobacco products are sold was struck down Wednesday by a federal judge who concluded that only the federal government can dictate warnings that must accompany the promotion of cigarettes.

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff handed a victory to the nation’s three largest tobacco manufacturers and the retailers who sell their products when he ruled on the legality of a 2009 city Board of Health code change requiring the display of smoking cessation signs where tobacco products are sold.

“Even merchants of morbidity are entitled to the full protection of the law, for our sake as well as theirs,” Rakoff said. He released the written decision just days before an agreement among the parties to delay enforcement of the rule was to expire on Saturday.

He said the federal Labeling Act, first enacted in 1965, sought to balance public and commercial interests with a comprehensive federal program to deal with cigarette labeling and advertising. He said it was created in part to prevent “diverse, nonuniform and confusing cigarette labeling and advertising regulations.” Part of the law dictated that no state law could impose a requirement or prohibition with respect to advertising or promotion of cigarettes, he noted.

The city also banned smoking in indoor workspaces, increased cigarette taxes, initiated educational campaigns and promoted smoking cessation programs.

As part of his ruling, Rakoff included some of the statistics that encouraged the city to enact the regulation: that one-third of smokers die of tobacco-related diseases and roughly 7,500 people die in New York City from smoking annually — “more than from AIDS, homicide and suicide combined.”

As part of the campaign, the Department of Health designed three signs for tobacco retailers to display. The judge said they contained “graphic, even gruesome images” of a stroke-damaged brain, a decaying tooth and gums and a diseased lung along with the phrase “Quit Smoking Today — For Help, Call 311 Or 1-866-NYQUITS.”

Nicholas Ciappetta, a city attorney who handled the case, said the city was “disappointed that this important health initiative was rejected by the court.”

“We are studying the decision and considering our legal options,” he said.

Floyd Abrams, a lawyer who represented store owners, said the ruling will come as a relief to retailers who had agreed to post the advertisements even though they were not yet required to do so.

He said the store owners lost some business from even nonsmokers who “didn’t want to look at disgusting images” as they tried to buy candy bars, cookies and other items.

Abrams said the city could legally put anti-smoking advertisements around the city but could not force the messages on store owners.

“One legal problem was that they were forcing others to say it for them,” he said, although Rakoff decided he did not need to address First Amendment claims in his ruling.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in a statement that it was “disappointed in and strongly disagrees with today’s ruling.”

It added: “Tobacco companies that are trying to prevent these messages from being seen should be ashamed of themselves.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (12)
  1. dmitri a. says:

    I wonder if there’s any verification that the gross images presented are incontrovertibly caused by smoking, and nothing else, or just selected to be disgusting.

  2. chris says:

    Bob: individuals who run businesses have the right to sell their products without having to dispaly images designed to make people not buy them. Also, individuals who use a product have a right to do so without government fearmongering.

    No one epitomizes the corporate state more than Michael Bloomberg

  3. fern says:

    RE going back to nazi Germany, Hitler was the first to ban cigarettes smoking, no one in his entourage would dare smoke a cigarette in front of him.

    1. Truth in Advertising says:

      “Hitler was the first to ban cigarettes smoking (sic)”.

      And when was that…other than in your nicotine-addicted head, that is? View any newsreel footage and you’ll see an abundance of smokers; civilians and soldiers alike.

      1. fern says:

        I take offense with this remark I think it is William Manchester who mentioned it but I’m not sure, what I remember for sure is that this law was found in the German archives stored in Washington I also remember that the law was deemed impractical and not applied.
        I will have you notice I wasn’t about your un-addicted head.

  4. Richard Olveda says:

    Truth is not the absence of propaganda!

  5. Conspiracy Bob says:

    This judge is even more ignorant than our so-called teachers, legislators, executives. Since when do corporations have the same natural rights as natural persons? Corporations are creations of the State, and inasmuch they may be regulated insofar as the government deems it the public interest so to do. Rights are perfect, privileges are imperfect rights. Privileges such as advertising, limited liability, etc. come with a price: accountability. There is no freedom of speech or freedom of the press for corporations; those are OUR perfect rights. Corporations must keep accounts, pay taxes, follow regulations. Natural persons who do these things, while remaining unenfranchised (not licensed like lawyers, doctors, architects, notaries, etc.) are not free men but slaves. Take your rights back from the corporate state!

  6. jan says:

    worse are those ads on tv that come on at dinner time…so gross

  7. me says:

    Also note they used a guy here with dirty finger nails. Talk about subjective journalism

  8. Robert says:

    Yes we are trying to move to a society ,similar to Nazi Germany’s. Look at what happened in Arizona, or NYC’s stop and frisk law.
    “In this country we know what is good for you!!” “Now where are your papers?”

  9. Lou Siffer says:

    Not to worry. Soon, very soon, we will have prohibition on tobacco. Tobacco has just about been demonized enough for the next step. Thank you Michael Bloomberg for your support of anti-smoking legislation. Full prohibition is right around the corner.

    Then, we will go after your caffeine. Bye bye soda & coffee – decaf only!

  10. KB says:

    These pictures just don’t work. We have them in Ontario and people buy the packs anyway. Also people buy metal cases to put them in and toss the card board. Waste of $ and time.

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