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NYC's Graphic Warning Signs Challenged in Court

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The nation's three largest tobacco companies have gone to court with a bid to block New York City from requiring retailers to post graphic images of smoking-related health problems wherever cigarettes are sold, the Associated Press reported June 5.

Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard — along with groups representing convenience stores and gas stations — claim the requirement violates their First Amendment rights.

The posters, distributed to about 11,500 tobacco-sellers, include images of rotting teeth and x-rays of damaged brains and lungs. Some retailers complained that customers were turned off by the pictures and left without making any purchases. Tobacco firms said only the federal government should have the power to regulate tobacco sales.

“The mandated placement of the signs ensures that every customer, including the majority who are shopping for food … is forced to look at unappetizing images of diseased body parts,” according to lawyers representing the tobacco industry.

Massachusetts officials are considering a similar program and are watching the New York case closely. “Point-of-purchase warnings are one of the best tools we have to keep the next generation of New Yorkers from becoming addicted. By trying to suppress this educational campaign, the tobacco industry is signaling its desire to keep kids in the dark,” according to a statement from the New York City Health Department.

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