FDA-Required Tobacco Product Inserts & Onserts–and the First Amendment

Eric N. Lindblom Micah L. Berman James F. Thrasher


In 2012, a federal court of appeals struck down an FDA rule requiring graphic health warnings on cigarettes as violating First Amendment commercial speech protections. Tobacco product inserts and onserts can more readily avoid First Amendment constraints while delivering more extensive information to tobacco users, and can work effectively to support and encourage smoking cessation. This paper examines FDA’s authority to require effective inserts and onserts and shows how FDA could design and support them to avoid First Amendment problems. Through this process, the paper offers helpful insights regarding how key Tobacco Control Act provisions can and should be interpreted and applied to follow and promote the statute’s purposes and objectives. The paper’s rigorous analysis of existing First Amendment case law relating to compelled commercial speech also provides useful guidance for any government efforts either to compel product disclosures or to require government messaging in or on commercial products or their advertising, whether done for remedial, purely informational, or behavior modification purposes.