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Big tobacco sues federal government

Framed by tobacco smoke, a man smokes a cigarette.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Four of the five biggest American tobacco companies are suing the federal government. They want the government to stop a plan to make them put graphic labels on cigarette packs starting next year. Well, he tobacco companies say those labels violate free speech by requiring them to carry a government-sponsored appeal to not use their legal products.

Attorney Bill Singer's been looking into this case and he's with us now from New York. Good morning Bill.

BILL SINGER: Good morning.

CHIOTAKIS: So, warnings have been on cigarette packs for a long, long time here in the U.S. What's at the center of this new tobacco argument?

SINGER: Their complaint, is that they are being forced to advocate on their commercial product -- against smoking -- when they argue that it's a legal problem. The contra side of that argument, is that the United States Supreme Court has argued that commercial speech may legally be regulated by the government. So in this lawsuit that's being threatened, we have a fascinating watershed moment where industry is arguing that the government has reached the limit of its rightful ability to limit speech. And the government is arguing no, we have every right to regulate this product that we feel causes cancer.

CHIOTAKIS: How much is at stake for tobacco companies in all this, Bill?

SINGER: The tobacco industry is making an argument that many other industries have historically made. Whether it's Pfizer and Merck in the drug industry, or Merril Lynch for example in the securities industry. They're arguing that at a point and time, it becomes too expensive for them to comply with government regulations, and that the cost of complying hurts their bottom line. So, there's a tremendous amount at stake for the tobacco industry, because quite frankly, these images are horrifying. And they will scare people away from smoking.

CHIOTAKIS: Bill Singer, attorney, who's been looking into this tobacco story. Bill, thank you so much.

SINGER: No problem, Steve.

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