The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against cigarette makers this morning could mean billions of dollars to smokers who thought “light” cigarettes were safer.
In a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled that smokers can sue tobacco companies for fraudulent advertising claims over light-branded cigarettes.
This ruling clears the way for several class-action suits to move forward.
Ruling against Altria Group Inc’s Philip Morris USA (PM) unit, the court ruled for a group of Maine smokers who sued under a state law to stop PM from advertising its light cigarettes. The high court held that the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act does not bar or preempt these state court lawsuits.
“When Congress enacted the Labeling Act, the 1969 Labeling Act, it gave no intention whatsoever to immunize cigarette makers for the false statements that they made in violation of anti-deception in the marketplace rules,” said David Frederick, lawyer for the Maine smokers.
The case is pegged on PM’s Marlboro Light and Cambridge Light brands and advertising that promised their “light” qualities and “lowered tar and nicotine” features.
The Maine smokers sued saying the advertising and labeling was deceptive. They claimed that smokers took in deeper puffs and kept the smoke in their lungs for longer periods of time or smoked more cigarettes.
A lower court ruled against them saying they had no standing under state law to file such a claim.
But the First Circuit reversed the decision saying they could proceed under the Maine state law, the Unfair Trade Practices Act that forbids deceptive advertising.
Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Stevens, said the makers of consumer products have a "duty not to deceive" the public in advertising or marketing their products, and the federal warning law does not shield the tobacco industry from being sued under these state laws for "making fraudulent statements."
In the past, the court has ruled that the warning label on cigarette packs blocked such legal claims. #