197646 Light Does Not Make Right: An Overview of Light Cigarette Lawsuits in the United States

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Edward L. Sweda, JD , Public Health Advocacy Institute, Boston, MA
Litigation against tobacco companies is a viable strategy to improve public health and to hold the companies accountable for their wrongdoing. One important category of lawsuits has focused on the tobacco industry's efforts to deter smoking cessation among health-conscious smokers by promoting “light” cigarettes as a less hazardous alternative to regular cigarettes. There have been more than forty such cases in the United States, as well as cases filed in other countries, including Canada. The U.S. Supreme Court's December 2008 decision in Altria Group, Inc. v. Good prevented the tobacco industry from achieving its goal of a shield of absolute immunity for its light cigarette scam.

There has been a mixed record of light cigarette lawsuits; cases have been dismissed by the highest courts in Illinois and Ohio (based on interpretations of state statutes) but certified as a class action by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In August 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the tobacco companies violated the federal anti-racketeering statute (RICO) by “engaging in this deception” of marketing its light cigarettes “as less harmful alternatives to full-flavor cigarettes” despite knowing “for decades that there is no clear health benefit from smoking low tar/low nicotine cigarettes as opposed to conventional full-flavor cigarettes.”

Relevant court rulings issued in 2009 will also be discussed.

Learning Objectives:
The participant will have an enhanced ability to educate the public about this deceptive trade practice and will be in a stronger position to discuss and cooperate with the attorneys who represent the victims of this industry scam.

Keywords: Tobacco Litigation, Smoking Cessation

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been active in tobacco control for over 30 years, with a main focus being legislation and litigation. I am also the co-author of "Light Cigarette Lawsuits in the United States: 2007," a law synopsis by the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, published in November 2007.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.