A U.S. judge has ruled unconstitutional a regulation requiring large, graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging.
District Judge Richard Leon said Wednesday the regulation violated the First Amendment right to free speech.
The warnings, which were required to take up about half the package label, included color images of cancer-diseased lungs and a body lying on an autopsy table.
In his ruling, Leon said the images were not designed to “increase consumer awareness of smoking risks” but to “evoke a strong emotional response” against smoking.
He said the government has many other ways to warn people about smoking, without violating the constitution.
The government can appeal the verdict. It has not commented on Wednesday’s ruling. U.S. government health officials have said the graphic labels are much more honest about the dangers of smoking than the simple warnings currently printed on all U.S. cigarette packages.
Doctors say smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths.
The head of the anti-smoking group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Matthew Myers, criticized the judge’s decision as, in his words, “wrong on the science and wrong on the law.”
A number of tobacco companies had challenged the regulation, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard Tobacco, Liggett Group, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco.