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Federal appeals court upholds judgment against tobacco companies

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld [opinion, PDF] a lower court decision to impose restrictions on cigarette makers for violating federal racketeering laws. The appellate court said that the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] did not err when it ruled in 2006 that numerous tobacco companies violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) [Cornell LII backgrounder] by deceiving consumers about the health effects of smoking. The tobacco companies contended [WSJ report] that the district court's ruling should be overturned because Congress passed a law in 2009 imposing a new set of restrictions on the tobacco industry. In rejecting the tobacco companies' argument, the appeals court declared that the lower court acted reasonably:

The district court did not clearly err when it found the defendants were reasonably likely to commit future RICO violations despite the passage of the Tobacco Control Act. Nor did the court abuse its discretion when it refused to vacate its injunctions under the primary jurisdiction doctrine.
It is not yet clear if or when the tobacco companies plan to appeal the decision.

Tobacco regulations have long been a contentious subject. Two weeks ago, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] requiring stores to display graphic anti-tobacco ads where tobacco products are sold. In March the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that graphic cigarette label warnings [JURIST news archive] are constitutional. The court decided unanimously that the portions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text] designed to limit the tobacco industry's ability to advertise to children, including a ban on distributing clothing and goods with logos or brand names, as well as sponsorship of cultural, athletic and social events requiring cigarette packaging and advertisements, is a valid restriction of commercial speech. Earlier that month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the FDA regulation recommending warning labels is unconstitutional [JURIST report], issuing a permanent injunction. US President Barack Obama signed [JURIST report] the 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 for the regulation of cigarette ingredients. The proposed implementation of new tobacco warning labels has also drawn criticism abroad.

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