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Calif. high court: Smokers can't sue over cigarette ads

By The Associated Press
08.03.07

SAN FRANCISCO — A unanimous California Supreme Court ruled yesterday that federal law trumps state provisions when it comes to cigarette marketing allegedly targeting children.

The high court let stand two lower-court rulings tossing out a long-running class-action lawsuit brought by smokers who said they took up the habit as minors because of the companies' marketing.

Because the plaintiffs failed to present evidence that the advertisements were misleading and targeted exclusively to children, federal cigarette-labeling laws and the companies' First Amendment rights to commercial speech allow the marketing campaigns, Justice Joyce Kennard wrote for the court.

The companies' "cigarette advertising concerns lawful activity because it is addressed to adults who can legally purchase and use cigarettes, and not exclusively to minors who cannot," Kennard wrote.

"We believe the California Supreme Court reached the right result in light of what the U.S. Supreme Court has said" about federal cigarette-labeling laws trumping state provisions, said Philip Morris Inc. lawyer William Ohlemeyer.

The California Supreme Court also noted the state shared in a $206 billion nationwide settlement in 1998 that included banning ads on billboards and public transportation and banning cartoon characters such as the iconic Joe Camel character, which the California lawsuit used as an example of the kind advertising that was allegedly illegal.

"This decision, while upholding some restrictions, nevertheless reaffirms the full authority of the California attorney general to enforce the multibillion-dollar tobacco settlement, especially when minors are involved," state Attorney General Jerry Brown said.

The original 1998 lawsuit against the country's six largest tobacco companies sought to have them forfeit between $700 million and $2 billion allegedly earned from sales to an estimated 1.5 million teen smokers in California between 1994 and 1999.

"Our position has always been that while the advertisements may be lawful to target adults, it's unlawful to target the sandbox," said the smokers' attorney, Norman Blumenthal.


Update
Justices turn down smokers' lawsuit
High court denies cert on case in which California Supreme Court agreed with tobacco companies that federal law, First Amendment allowed their marketing campaigns. 03.18.08

Related

California court likely to dismiss suit accusing tobacco firms of targeting teens

Judge issues preliminary ruling, saying restrictions sought by plaintiffs are too 'onerous to pass constitutional muster.' 09.16.02

Federal judge won't dismiss claim that tobacco ads targeted kids
Cigarette companies had asked court to throw out portion of government lawsuit, saying they never marketed to children and that their advertising was protected by First Amendment. 02.25.04

Justices turn away tobacco companies' appeal about ads
Reynolds American, Lorillard claimed California's tough anti-smoking ads smeared their reputations. 02.21.06

Court blocks landmark ruling against tobacco industry
D.C. Circuit stays federal judge's decision that companies violated racketeering laws; order allows ad campaigns to continue that had been ruled misleading. 11.01.06

States sue R.J. Reynolds over ad in Rolling Stone
At least nine attorneys general say ads for Camel music campaign, which were coupled with magazine-produced illustrations, violate tobacco industry's promise not to use cartoons to sell cigarettes. 12.05.07

High court steps into legal fray over 'light' cigarettes
Justices agree to decide if tobacco companies can be sued in state court over alleged deceptive ads. 01.22.08

Tobacco ads

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