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FDA drops fight on cigarette labels

RICHMOND — The US government is abandoning a legal battle to require that cigarette packs carry a set of large and often macabre warning labels depicting the dangers of smoking and encouraging smokers to quit.

Instead, the Food and Drug Administration will go back to the drawing board and create labels to replace those that included images of diseased lungs and the sewn-up corpse of a smoker, according to a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder obtained by the Associated Press. The government had until Monday to ask the US Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision upholding a ruling that the requirement violated First Amendment free speech protections.

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‘‘In light of these circumstances, the Solicitor General has determined . . . not to seek Supreme Court review of the First Amendment issues at the present time,’’ Holder wrote in a Friday letter to House Speaker John Boehner.

Some of the nation’s largest tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., sued to block the mandate to include warnings on cigarette packs as part of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that gave the federal government authority to regulate tobacco. The labels originally set to appear on store shelves last year would have represented the biggest change in US cigarette packs in 25 years.

Tobacco companies had argued that the proposed warnings went beyond factual information into anti-smoking advocacy.

The government, however, argued the images were factual in conveying the dangers of tobacco, which is responsible for about 443,000 deaths in the United States a year.

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