Strict Tobacco Rules: Law Requiring Graphic Labels In Cigarette Packages Upheld As Smoking Age Limit Set To Be Raised In New York City

By Gopi Chandra Kharel on April 23, 2013 4:21 AM EDT

Smoking Rules
If you are in New York City and if you are a smoker, the most plausible question to ask would be: Are you 21 years old? (Photo: Reuters)

Tobacco industry's challenge to a 2009 federal law that makes it mandatory to have graphic warning labels on cigarette packages and puts restrictions on expanded tobacco marketing was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court Monday.

The decision came on a day when New York City's Council announced a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21 from 18, scrutinizing U.S. citizens in terms of smoking laws.

The companies challenging the mandatory graphic labels on cigarettes include R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. And Lorillard Tobacco Co. They argued that the law violated their constitutional right for free speech.

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The law required tobacco manufacturers to allot at least half the space on the back and front of the cigarettes packages for graphic warning relating to health risks on smoking. The law also prohibited marketing practices to promote tobacco usage such as brand sponsorships of cultural events or sporting.

The companies said that the mandate infringed upon their basic "rights" to communicate about their products with adults. The appeal was bluntly denied by the Supreme Court in a short written order and let the rules stand as they were.

Meanwhile, in another ordeal that is thought to test the patients of smokers in New York City, new rules have come up in relation to the age limit for smokers to be able to buy tobacco products.

If you are in NYC and if you are a smoker, the most plausible question to ask would be: Are you 21 years old?

A bill introduced in the city council Monday with initiatives from the Speaker Christine Quinn would make NYC the first major city in the United States to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco related products to 21 from 18.  

"That will literally save lives," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told the New York Daily News. "The more difficult it is for (young people) to gain access to tobacco products, the less likely they are to start smoking. The more likely they are to live longer."

The stricter rules that are likely to startle many youngsters came after a recent rule that mandated stores to keep tobacco products out of sights, hidden behind a counter or inside a drawer. Smoking was banned 10 years ago in New York's parks and beaches, and also in places most people would love to smoke -- bars and restaurants.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling on the mandate of graphic health warning on tobacco products, it could take years before graphic warning labels would actually appear on cigarettes packages since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in August 2012 that the proposal contravened the industry's rights for free speech, the Wall Street Journal reported.

More importantly, the court said that the FDA had no statistically proven data that the graphic labels would indeed decrease the number of smokers.

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