The US government's attempt to place graphic warning labels on cigarette packs has been blocked by a judge, who said that big tobacco was likely to succeed in arguing it was a violation of free speech.
The full-color warning labels, including diseased lungs and a cancerous mouth lesion, would serve as "mini billboards" for the US government's "obvious anti-smoking agenda," said the ruling by US District Judge Richard Leon.
The warnings would take up about half the space on the front of each cigarette pack, located on the upper portion so as to be visible in most store displays.
However, a lawsuit was filed by R.J. Reynolds and three other major tobacco companies to prevent the US Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services from mandating the new labels.
"The court concludes that plaintiffs have demonstrated a substantial likelihood that they will prevail on the merits of their position that these mandatory graphic images unconstitutionally compel speech, and that they will suffer irreparable harm," said Leon in his ruling.
"Accordingly, the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction is granted."
The changes, announced by the US government last year, were called for in a 2009 law that required new and larger labels on cigarettes to depict the negative health consequences of smoking.