Supreme Court Rules Against Tobacco Companies in Light Cigarette Litigation

250px-zwei_zigarettenIn 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.

For the opinion, click here.

For the full story, click here.

12 thoughts on “Supreme Court Rules Against Tobacco Companies in Light Cigarette Litigation”

  1. I am STILL dying to know, from Jill and/or her neighbor, what ‘specific’ lung CA is caused only by ‘light cigarettes ?

    If none, I would then like to see a retraction and/or

    How ’bout it, Jill?


    Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe praised the high court’s decision in a press release. Rowe filed a friend of the court brief in support of Lanham’s clients. Attorneys general from 46 other states signed on to the brief.

    “Today’s decision is a major win for the health of American people,” Rowe said. “The court has held that cigarette manufacturers cannot make fraudulent claims about the safety of their products and then hide behind the Federal Cigarette Labeling Act. The decision makes clear that state unfair and deceptive trade practice laws are not pre-empted by the Federal Labeling Act. Maine was proud to lead the states in arguing against pre-emption…”

    …Last month, the FTC formally dropped its endorsement of the machine testing, known as the Cambridge Filter Method.

    The commission said the test method is flawed because, among other things, the machine doesn’t take into account the way smokers adjust their behavior.

    The case is Altria Group Inc. v. Good, 07-562.

  3. The issue with so called ‘light’ cigarettes, is that it refers only to the lighter flavor as a result of the ‘light’ filter design which registers lower in government approved testing than what is actually delivered to consumers, and that those results was deliberately intended.

    The distinction is that different light cigarette smokers ‘compensate’ in different ways. Some puff harder, some hold the smoke in longer, and some simply smoke more in the quest to maintain nicotine levels.

    Lung cancers can be traced to tobacco, however, not all lung cancer is caused by smoking. I’ve seen many patients with lung cancer who never smoked and were never significantly exposed to cigarette smoke.
    I have seen far more smokers with significant circulatory and/or respiratory problems, who have never had lung cancer.

    There is not, essentially and ultimately, any difference in the exposure to carcingens. There is no ‘special kind of lung cancer caused only by light cigarettes’, that I am aware. The metabolites absorbed are the same.

    It is true that cigarette companies increased the amount of nicotine,
    in recent years, in a deliberate attempt to keep smokers smoking by making it more difficult to quit.

  4. Smari,

    Here are the facts:

    1. Cigarette companies knew and hid the fact that “light” cigarettes are not only unsafe, they are more unsafe than traditonal cigarettes. That is because
    a. people draw more puffs on them and
    b. the companies added more chemicals to them to make them physiologically more additictive to the user.

    If a company markets a product as safer while they know full well it is not (and in fact they have actively made it less safe), that is not an innocent mistake, it is a criminal act.

    This is exactly analogous to Big Pharma’s attempt to claim they may knowingly make false claims about the safety of their products after hiding the relevant data on the harm their products cause, both from the FDA and the public. These actions, in both cases, are illegal and result in death and illness for which they should most certainly be held accountable.

  5. I´m not to fond of this ruling.
    While “light” cigarettes are of course dangerous, then they still earn the title by having less nicotine and tar, and like Sally says, light does not mean its healthy.
    if this is considered, you could sue the coca cola company for marketing “Coke light” sine the artificial sweetener is more unhealthy then normal sugar.
    those cigarettes contain less of the substances people think of in relation to tobacco, and that’s what “light” refers to.

    this reminds me of a lawsuit in germany where a company was banned from branding there cigarettes as “organic” even tho they were organic, simply because it was reasoned that people associate organic with healthy and so, like in this case in america, the company lost based on the fact that people would be to stupid to understand or consider the facts that tobacco is unhealthy.

  6. Wouldn’t this ruling put an end to the attempt by Big Pharma to claim that once the FDA has ruled on a drug’s safety they can’t be sued no matter what they might say or do to market their drug or the “after action” drug reports once it’s killed a few hundred people in the open market?

  7. Why would anyone trust a company like that? Of course they’re going to sugar coat things! People need to do research things before they buy into it.

    I’m not defending the cigarette companies, yes they were very misleading.

    “Light” anything is never a good thing. From light sour cream to light beer. There’s always a catch with “light” and it’s never a good one at that.

  8. VT, I knew Nostradame (well, okay then, I did hear about him a coupla times) and you, sir, are no Nostradamus.

    However, you appear an intelligent, critically thinking attorney who weighs the facts and presents the evidence in a convincing manner. A critical thinker is—without any doubt—much more valuable than a soothsayer, lucky prophet, seer, witch doctor, or any Nostradamus-like mystic.

    Thank you for your legal insight and legalistic predictions based on a *good read of the law* and not on mystical probabilistic prophecies.

  9. The Supreme Court also denied the Application for stay and/or injunction of the other natural born citizen case this morning, Cort Wrotnowski v. Susan Bysiewicz, Connecticut Secretary of State. Leo Donofrio was very active in this case as well as his own.

    Back on Dec. 8th, I posted the following comment: “Expect the Court to deny the Application by next Monday, Dec. 15th. Scalia is not necessarily doing the applicant a favor. Instead of a denial of review by a single Justice in chambers, the applicant will now be handed a denial by the entire Court, just like Donofrio.”


  10. 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.”


    Why don’t we call these conservatives what they really are which is “corporatists.” Their agenda promotes corporate interests using the mantle of Mom, God, Country, and apple pie. It’s that tired old marketing game applied to politics and most people see through it. I vote for truth in political philosophy! These folks would lie when the truth would help them.

  11. I’m very glad for this ruling. My neighbor has a specific type of lung cancer that is caused by “light” cigarettes. He smoked them as a way to wean himself off regulars and he very much believed they were safer.

    In addition I learned that cigarette warnings, from the mild ones on US packages to the more graphic pictures found in other countries, actually make people more likely to smoke. I’d be willing to put a lot of my Las Vegas Minister money on the idea that cigarette companies have internal memoranda on that and are more than happy to put the warnings on the labels to their own bad use.

    “Cigarette warnings–whether they informed smokers they were at risk of contracting emphysema, heart disease, or a host of other chronic conditions–had in fact stimulated an area of the smokers’ brains called the nucleus accumbens, otherwise known as the craving spot. This region is a chain-link of specialized neurons that lights up when the body desires something…When stimulated, the nucleus accumbens requires higher and higher doese to get its fix.
    In short, the fMRI results showed that cigarette warning labels not only failed to deter smoking, but by activating the mucleus accubens, it appeared they actually encouraged smokers to light up..{it} had …become a killer marketing tool for the tobacco industry.” pp14-15 of buy ology by Martin Lindstrom

    According to the author these companies engage in subliminal marketing as well.

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