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Court sides with state-based suits against 'light' cigarettes

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in Altria Group v. Good that a group of Maine smokers who puffed "light" cigarettes can sue Philip Morris under the state's law governing deceptive advertising. The court's 5-4 opinion is available here.

The general take so far is that the ruling is a bit of a surprise, and some theorize that it could represent the court distancing itself from federal pre-emption in other cases such as Wyeth v. Levine, regarding FDA labeling of pharmaceuticals. At least that's the contention in the WSJ Washington Wire account, "High Court to Smokers: Preemption, Shmeemption; Bring Your State Suits."

Altria issued a statement calling the "light" cases still manageable:

"While we had hoped for a dismissal based upon federal preemption, it is important to note that the Supreme Court made no finding of liability. We continue to view these cases as manageable, and the company will assert many of the strong defenses used successfully in the past to defend against this very type of case," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of Philip Morris USA.

The Court said that the plaintiffs "still must prove that [the companies'] use of 'lights' and 'lowered tar' descriptors in fact violated the state deceptive practices statute."


UPDATE: I should have noted the amicus brief submitted by my employers, the National Association of Manufacturers. The LegalNewsline story on today's ruling mentions it.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.