Cigarette class action goes up in smoke
The cigarette industry--makers of the world's most unsafe product--won another round in the U.S. Courts when a federal appeals court threw out the class action lawsuit on behalf of smokers of "light" cigarettes.
The plaintiffs were smokers who felt they were misled into believing that "light" cigarettes were safer than regular cigarettes. The court ruled that smokers would have to sue individually and prove individually that they were misled about the safety of "light" cigarettes. Pursuing these cases on an individual basis is, of course, much more expensive and beyond the means of most individuals or their private counsel.
The trial judge had certified the class action in September of 2006, but the three-judge panel raised a number of specious reasons why individuals might "prefer" light cigarettes. Previous class actions in state courts have also been unsuccessful, for various reasons, including a large judgment achieved in Illinois but overturned on appeal. A similar case from Maine is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The industry claims that when the Federal Trade Commission allowed manufacturers to market "light" cigarettes, that decision preempts state attempts to regulate them. The Supreme Court's current very conservative composition, with the Bush and Reagan appointees in the majority, has been very supportive of the concept of federal jurisdiction preempting consumer-oriented victim's rights.
In 2001, the National Cancer Institute disclosed strong data confirming that "light" cigarettes are no safer than "normal" cigarettes. While the appellate courts assumed that light cigarette smokers were aware of this data and continued to purchase or smoke light cigarettes for reasons other than health, it is our impression that the smoking public is not well-informed on this issue and that there is a lingering sense in the public that "light" cigarettes are, in fact, healthier.