In a major ruling, the Supreme Court has ruled that litigation against light cigarettes may continue in a 5-4 decision. The ruling is not just a victory for anti-smokers, but also states rights advocates and common law advocates. The opinion reinforces the right of states to allow such lawsuits, which are not preempted by federal law.
The opinion in Altria Group v. Good (07-562) adressed whether federal law preempts state tort claims against tobacco manufacturers over the marketing of “light” cigarettes. Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion upholding the lower court while Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia and Alito.
Ironically, it remains the conservative wing that is trying to expand the jurisdiction of the federal government to restrict state authority in consumer and product liability litigation. We are still waiting for a ruling in another major such case involving the alleged preemption of state claims over a medical device approved by the FDA in Wyeth v. Levine.
I have long argued that the light cigarette litigation represents the most promising area of liability against tobacco companies today. However, it is not liability that threatens the industry like the multi-state settlement or the federal government’s lawsuit. The industry has changed its advertising and these cases, while expensive, can be absorbed by the companies.
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