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TOBACCO: FTC Counters Altria In 'Light' Cigarettes Case

by LAUREN POLLOCKThe Wall Street Journal
June 20th, 2008

The Federal Trade Commission is asking the Supreme Court to reject Altria Group Inc.'s argument that only that agency can regulate cigarette advertising, saying such an interpretation mischaracterizes the FTC's "scope and effect" on the issue.

The tobacco industry is trying to head off a wave of state-based challenges, while it appeals a federal judge's order to stop marketing cigarettes as "low tar," "light," "ultra light" or "mild" because they mislead consumers.

A class-action lawsuit has been brought in Maine using the state's trade law alleging Philip Morris deceptively marketed light cigarettes. A federal judge agreed, but the federal appeals court in Boston reversed that ruling, saying the lawsuit could proceed. The Supreme Court accepted Altria's appeal request in January.

In its so-called amicus brief, the FTC said nothing Altria is arguing regarding cigarette marketing "preempts state lawsuits such as this." The suit alleges cigarettes deemed "light" with lower tar and nicotine content than other cigarette products by their makers were being deceptive.

The FTC also said that given the breadth of its responsibilities, the commission alone shouldn't be responsible for "policing the cigarette industry's marketing practices." Unlike the Food and Drug Administration, which has a mandate to evaluate medical devices for safety, the FTC said it doesn't have the resources to oversee all relevant practices of the cigarette industry. The commission added that it is "a law enforcement agency composed of attorneys and economists, not a scientific body."

The lawsuit versus New York-based Altria, filed on behalf of smokers, seeks to recover financial damages for fraudulent marketing. Besides the various pending state law class-actions, the advertising of light cigarettes is an issue addressed in a federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry that is on appeal in a Washington-based appeals court.

Write to Lauren Pollock at

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