In a most significant decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that lawsuits may proceed against tobacco companies for allegedly deceptive marketing of so-called “light” cigarettes. In a 5-4 decision, the Court – rejecting federal preemption – said that smokers may use state consumer protection laws to sue cigarette makers for the way they promote “light” and “low tar” brands.
The tobacco companies argued that the lawsuits are barred by the federal cigarette labeling law, which forbids states from regulating any aspect of cigarette advertising that involves smoking and health. But Justice John Paul Stevens said in his majority opinion that the labeling law does not shield the companies from state laws against deceptive practices. The Justice wrote that people suing the cigarette makers still must prove that the use of “light” and “lowered tar” actually violate the state anti-fraud laws. However, under the Court’s ruling, those lawsuits may go forward.
Three Maine residents sued Altria Group Inc. and its Philip Morris USA Inc. subsidiary under the state’s law against unfair marketing practices. The class action claim represents all smokers of Marlboro Lights or Cambridge Lights cigarettes, both made by Philip Morris. The lawsuit alleges that the company knew for decades that smokers of light cigarettes compensate for the lower levels of tar and nicotine by taking longer puffs and compensating in other ways. A Federal District Court dismissed the lawsuit, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit disagreed. Now that the highest Court in the land has ruled, the case will go forward. The rejection of preemption by the Court in this case is very important.
Source: Associated Press
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