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Supreme Court OK's smoker lawsuits

An ad for light cigarettes was posted in San Francisco. An ad for light cigarettes was posted in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images)
December 16, 2008
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WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court yesterday said smokers may sue tobacco companies over what they allege to be deceptive marketing of "light" cigarettes.

The court split 5-4 in saying that a group of Maine smokers may proceed with their suit against Philip Morris USA, now owned by Altria. The smokers sued under state laws regulating deceptive trade practices, and the company countered by saying that federal law that regulates cigarette advertising preempted state law. The decision in the cigarette case, Altria Group v. Good, is the latest in a growing national debate over "preemption," a doctrine under which state product liability lawsuits against companies can be thrown out under federal law.

Courts are filled with such cases. The justices already this term have heard another major preemption case, involving the pharmaceutical industry, but have not announced a decision.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy sided with the court's usually liberal bloc in the decision, which was written by Justice John Paul Stevens.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent that was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The smokers have cited internal company documents to accuse Philip Morris of falsely marketing low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes as less harmful than regular brands.

WASHINGTON POST

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