TOBACCO: FTC Counters Altria In 'Light' Cigarettes Case

Publisher Name: 
The Wall Street Journal

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 lauren.pollock@dowjones.com

AMP Section Name:Tobacco
  • 182 Health
  • 208 Regulation