Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | October 6, 2008

Lawyer Sanders says U.S. Supreme Court to hear federal preemption agrument in toxic tort suit involving Philip Morris’ advertising of light cigarettes.

One of the first cases in the October 2008 term of the U.S. Supreme Court, Altria v. Good, is a dispute over whether federal regulation of cigarettes prevents smokers from suing tobacco companies under state law for allegedly deceptive advertising of “light” cigarettes. Three Maine residents sued Altria Group Inc. and its Philip Morris USA Inc. subsidiary under the state’s law against unfair marketing practices.  

According the briefs filed in the case, more than 80% of the country’s 45 million cigarette smokes smoke “light” or “ultra light” cigarettes.  The vast majority of these smokers believe that “light” cigarettes are less dangerous than regular cigarettes and smoking light cigarettes is a safe alternative to quitting.  Such beliefs are incorrect.  Scientific evidence shows that light cigarettes are just as deadly as regular cigarettes.  Moreover, light cigarettes offer absolutely no health benefits whatsoever. 


Phillip Morris says a federal law on cigarette labeling and advertising rules out such lawsuits because it forbids states from imposing any requirements on the advertising or promotion of cigarettes.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit disagreed with the cigarette manufacturer and held that federal law does not negate consumer fraud claims related to the sale of light cigarettes. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and decide the federal preemption issue.


The key to the case is whether the Supreme Court views the suit as being about false advertising, which would tend to favor the smokers, or smoking and health, which could lead to a ruling for Altria.


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