D.C. Circuit Strikes Down FDA’s Cigar Warnings

July 9, 2020By Karin F.R. Moore

On July 7, 2020, a unanimous panel of the D.C. Circuit held that FDA violated the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) and the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to study whether the extensive health warnings required on cigars would actually lower the number of smokers in promulgating the regulation “Deeming Tobacco Products to Be Subject to the FDCA,” 81 Fed. Reg. 28,973 (May 10, 2016) (the Deeming Rule).  In Cigar Association of America, et al. v. FDA, No. 18-5195 (D.C. Cir. July 7, 2020), the panel said that while the FDA did conclude that the warnings would help convey the health risks of smoking, they were required to consider how the warnings would likely affect the number of smokers, but did not do so. The panel determined that because the FDA failed to consider that question, they acted arbitrarily and capriciously.  The court did not address the First Amendment challenge to the required warnings, indicating that their “analysis begins, and ends, with the plaintiffs’ statutory claims.”

This decision is an appeal of a 2018 ruling by the federal district court in D.C., which found that the regulation was lawful and the required health warnings on cigars did not violate the First Amendment since they are aimed at informing the public of health risks. 315 F. Supp. 3d 143 (D.D.C. 2018). On the First Amendment question, the district court applied the standard set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1985 ruling in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio, and held that the warnings are factual, uncontroversial disclosures meant to disseminate information about the risks of smoking cigars, and to correct public misperceptions about the use of cigars and pipe tobacco.

Under the TCA, which amended the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), Congress directed the agency to establish a comprehensive regulatory scheme for tobacco, and requires the FDA to consider the impact of any tobacco regulation on smoking cessation and adoption rates. The 2016 Deeming Rule which extended the FDA’s authority over tobacco products and requires warnings statements on tobacco products, did not consider the impact of warnings on smoking cessation, according to the appeals panel. “In fact, the rule scrupulously avoids that issue, and the FDA barely even contends otherwise,” the panel said.  Indeed, the FDA acknowledged in the Deeming Rule’s Final Regulatory Impact Analysis that “[r]eliable evidence on the impacts of warning labels . . . on users of cigars, pipe tobacco, waterpipe tobacco, and [electronic nicotine delivery systems] does not, to our knowledge, exist.”

The appeals court ultimately determined that “[b]y its terms, section 906(d)(1) [of the FDCA] required the FDA to “tak[e] into account” whether the warning requirements would affect the number of smokers.  Because the FDA declined even to consider that question, it violated section 906(d)(1) and acted arbitrarily and capriciously.”

We will keep you informed of this case as it is remanded back to district court.

Categories: Tobacco