Lawyers for the biggest US tobacco maker went before the Supreme
Court on Monday to argue that Washington is to blame if anyone felt
tricked into thinking that light cigarettes are less dangerous than
If the highest court in the United States rules against Altria -
whose Philip Morris unit is best known for Marlboro cigarettes -
tobacco manufacturers could find themselves being forced to pay out
staggering legal settlements to ex-smokers.
Three residents of the northeast state of Maine who puffed on
Marlboro Lights and Cambridge Lights for 15 years want to use a state
law to sue for allegedly deceiving smokers into thinking that light
cigarettes are healthier cigarettes.
Altria counters that cigarette packaging falls under the domain of
the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which failed to act despite
being aware that light cigarettes were no less a health hazard that
You have misled everyone
"You have misled everyone who have bought these cigarettes for a
long time," Samuel Alito, one of the nine Supreme Court justices, told
Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, an attorney for the FTC.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs were meanwhile peppered with questions
from the bench as to why their case focused on public deception, rather
than on the relationship between smoking and health.
Light cigarettes offer lower levels of tar and nicotine, but health
experts say they do not eliminate the dangers posed by smoking.
At the heart of the case is the possibility that cigarette
manufacturers used every trick in the marketing book to pitch their
A legal matter
Altria - whose stable of brands also includes Benson and Hedges
- contends that a section of a federal law that deals with cigarette
labelling and advertising trumps anti-tobacco legislation implemented at
the state level.
That law was adopted in 1966, however, when smoking's impact on
health was not as clear as it is today.
Quite apart from the obvious health aspect of the case, the Supreme
Court will clarify the legitimacy of such exemption clauses.
A federal court in Maine initially ruled in favour of Altria, before
an appeals court overturned its ruling.
In the Supreme Court on Monday, Altria's lawyer Theodore Olson
argued that if Congress went through the trouble of drafting an
exemption clause, it was certainly with the intention of seeing federal
law taking precedent over state law. – (Sapa-AFP)
Stop smoking Centre
Light cigarettes not light at all