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Minnesota high court rules for tobacco company on 'light' cigarettes

The Minnesota Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday issued a summary judgment [opinion, PDF] in favor of Philip Morris, Inc. [corporate website], finding that the plaintiffs were barred from recovery due to a settlement in a state lawsuit from 1998. The plaintiffs sued Philip Morris in 2001 for using false and misleading labeling on their Marlboro "light" cigarettes alleging that "light" cigarettes are not, in fact, safer. A similar lawsuit was filed by the state in 1998 but settled outside of court. As part of the settlement, the state agreed to "release and forever discharge Philip Morris from any and all claims asserted in the State lawsuit," including all claims associated with the labeling of "light" cigarettes. In its decision, the court ruled that the plaintiffs, as citizens of the state, were precluded from suing on this issue again. A dissenting judge argued the case should move forward because the deceptive labeling has continued after the 1998 settlement.

Tobacco labeling and promotion of consumer awareness have led to controversy recently. In April, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] over the constitutionality of new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations requiring cigarette packaging and advertisements to display more prominent graphic health warning labels. In March, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the graphic cigarette label warnings were constitutional, holding that the warnings provide undisputed factual information about the health risks of using tobacco products. President Barack Obama [official website] signed [JURIST report] the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) into law in 2009, granting the FDA certain authority to regulate manufactured tobacco products. The legislation heightens warning-label requirements, prohibits marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allows regulation of cigarette ingredients.

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