U.S. Supreme Court allows Maine smokers to sue "light" cigarette manufacturers for fraud
In a 5-4 decision, yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected cigarette manufacturers' attempt to preempt state law fraud claims arising out of the sale of "light" cigarettes.
The victims in the Maine lawsuit claim that manufacturers deliberately mis-led smokers about the effect of smoking light cigarettes: while the cigarettes contain less tar and nicotine, they do not "deliver" fewer toxins as the manufacturers claimed in advertising. The victims claim that the companies knew that smokers inhale light cigarettes differently than standard cigarettes and still ingested similar levels of these toxins.
The manufacturers attempted to avoid a trial on the issue by asserting the preemption doctrine. Bush-appointed Justices, in particular, have misused the preemption doctrine to protect manufacturers from state-law claims wherever the federal government has issued approvals, guidelines, standards or regulations on a product. In this case, the Supreme Court majority rejected the industry's claim of preemption, holding that Congress, in mandating cigarette warnings, did not intend to preempt the operation of state law consumer fraud statutes.