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New Hampshire Supreme Court revokes class action status in cigarette lawsuit

The Supreme Court of New Hampshire [official website] on Tuesday revoked class action status [opinion, PDF] in a lawsuit challenging the labeling of "light" cigarettes. The plaintiff, Karen Lawrence, filed the lawsuit in 2002 alleging that Philip Morris, Inc. [corporate website] deliberately misled consumers to believe that "light" cigarettes decreased health risks. The case was granted class action status in 2010, allowing all consumers who purchased the cigarettes in question in New Hampshire to join the suit. In its decision, the court determined that because information about the danger of "light" cigarettes was publicly available during the time period of the lawsuit, not all New Hampshire purchasers were harmed by the labeling. The court found that the harm to each consumer must be determined with consideration of their exposure to this information. The case was remanded for a decision in the case of the original plaintiff. The court's ruling was on the sole issue of whether a class action lawsuit was appropriate, and did not consider the merits of the case.

Tobacco labeling and advertising have been litigated for years. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last month upheld [JURIST report] a lower court decision to impose restrictions on cigarette makers for violating federal racketeering laws. Two weeks earlier, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 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

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