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Tobacco makers sue FDA in bid to snuff out packaging guidelines

WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest tobacco companies are suing the Food and Drug Administration over recent guidelines that they claim overstep the agency's authority over packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Units of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Altria Group Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming the FDA's guidance infringes on commercial speech.

The FDA gained authority to regulate tobacco in 2009, including the power to review new tobacco products before they can be sold if they are significantly different from products on the market.

Last month the agency issued guidelines on how manufacturers can determine if their products require FDA review.

But the tobacco makers allege that the FDA is asserting overly broad authority to review labeling and packaging.

A study released in 2013 showed that plain cigarette packaging may make the product less appealing and encourage more people to quit.

In the U.S., rates of smoking have declined in the U.S. over the last few decades. The rate of cigarette smoking dropped from about 21 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2013.

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