• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Tobacco companies file lawsuit over graphic labels

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released nine new graphic warning labels for cigarette packs and advertisements. Cigarette makers have until fall 2012 to comply. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)

August 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Four large U.S. tobacco companies sued the federal government over new graphic cigarette labels that include the sewn-up corpse of a smoker and pictures of diseased lungs.

The FDA has said the graphic labels serve as frank and honest warnings about the dangers of smoking and wants to make them mandatory on cigarette packs, cartons and advertising by next September.

But tobacco companies believe the labels violate free speech and want them stopped. They argue that the labels unfairly urge adults to shun their legal products and will cost millions to produce.

"Never before in the United States have producers of a lawful product been required to use their own packaging and advertising to convey an emotionally-charged government message urging adult consumers to shun their products," the companies wrote in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said the images were manipulated to be especially emotional. The tobacco companies said the corpse photo is actually an actor with a fake scar, while the healthy lungs were sanitized to make the diseased organ look worse.

The FDA refused to comment on the lawsuit, saying the agency does not discuss pending litigation.

A federal judge upheld many parts of the law, but the companies are appealing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.