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California judge rules in favor of tobacco company in 'lights' cigarette case

A superior court judge in California ruled [decision, PDF] Tuesday that a class of plaintiffs cannot recover any money against the tobacco company Philip Morris USA [corporate website]. The plaintiffs in the case argued [PM press release] that Philip Morris violated California's false advertising laws by using the terms "Lights" and "Lower Tar and Nicotine" on cigarette packages. In denying plaintiffs' claim for damages and injunctive relief, Judge Ronald Prager of the San Diego County Superior Court [official website] found that the plaintiffs did not present any hard evidence to show that they were damaged by Philip Morris' labeling:

Plaintiffs failed to present any specific evidence entitling them to injunctive relief. To the contrary, the evidence established that the descriptors on which the Plaintiffs base their case have been removed and, because of changes in the law, these descriptors can never be used again. Since there is little likelihood that the conduct giving rise to this case will reoccur, the claim for injunctive relief is moot.
The ruling is the latest development in a 16-year-old class action suit.

Cigarette labeling [JURIST news archive] has been a controversial legal issue recently. In December the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] denied a request [JURIST report] for rehearing on a decision holding that the FDA's rule on graphic cigarette label warnings exceeded the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) [official website] statutory authority and undermined tobacco companies' economic autonomy. In March 2012 the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the graphic cigarette label warnings 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.

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