Four of the five major U.S. tobacco companies have sued the federal government over new cigarette labels that show graphic images of the negative effects of tobacco use.
The Food and Drug Administration-approved labels include shocking photos like a dead body and a man smoking through a trachea. The images take up the top half of cigarette packages.
Tobacco companies say the warning labels violate their free speech rights.
"Never before in the United States have producers of a lawful product been required to use their own packaging and advertising to convey an emotionally-charged government message urging adult consumers to shun their products," the companies wrote in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington.
The companies, led by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co., said the warnings no longer simply convey facts to allow people to make a decision on whether to smoke. They want a judge to stop the labels.
The FDA refused to comment, saying the agency does not discuss pending litigation. But when she announced the new labels in June, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called them frank and honest warnings about the dangers of smoking.
The FDA approved nine new warnings to rotate on cigarette packs. The new warnings also must constitute 20 percent of any cigarette advertising and include a number for a stop smoking hotline.
Joining R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard in the suit are Commonwealth Brands Inc., Liggett Group LLC and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc.
Altria Group Inc. -- parent company of the nation's largest cigarette maker Philip Morris USA -- is not a part of the lawsuit.