WASHINGTON — A judge on Monday temporarily blocked the government from forcing tobacco companies to put graphic images such as dead and diseased smokers on cigarette packages starting next year.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that it’s likely the cigarette makers will succeed in a lawsuit to overturn the new standard. He blocked the requirement until after the lawsuit is resolved, which could take years.

A similar case brought by the tobacco companies against the labels is pending before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley upheld most of the law’s marketing restrictions in January 2010. The appeals court heard arguments in the case in July but is not expected to rule for several months.

Leon found that the nine graphic images approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June go beyond conveying the facts about the health risks of smoking or go beyond that into advocacy – a critical distinction in a case over free speech.

The packaging would have included these color images:

A man exhaling cigarette smoke through a tracheotomy hole in his throat.

A plume of cigarette smoke enveloping an infant receiving a mother’s kiss.

A pair of diseased lungs next to a pair of healthy lungs.

A mouth afflicted with what appear to be cancerous lesions.

A man breathing into an oxygen mask.

A cadaver on a table with post-autopsy chest staples.

A woman weeping.

“It is abundantly clear from viewing these images that the emotional response they were crafted to induce is calculated to provoke the viewer to quit, or never to start smoking – an objective wholly apart from disseminating purely factual and uncontroversial information,” Leon wrote in his 29-page opinion. He pointed out that at least some were photographs altered to evoke emotion.

The judge also pointed out that the size of the labels suggests they are unconstitutional. The FDA requirement said the labels were to cover the entire top half of cigarette packs, front and back and include a number for a stop-smoking hotline.

Leon said the labels would amount to a “mini-billboard” for the agency’s “obvious anti-smoking agenda.”

The Justice Department argued that the images, coupled with written warnings, were designed to communicate the dangers to youngsters and adults.

The FDA declined to comment on the judge’s ruling, and a spokesman for the Justice Department would not say whether it plans to appeal.