NEW ORLEANS — Suits filed against two cigarette makers over the marketing of "light" cigarettes have been thrown out by a federal appeals court.
Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the 2003 suits filed by two people against the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and by five people against Philip Morris USA Inc.
Although the suits alleged the companies had falsely marketed "light" cigarettes as safer, none of the plaintiffs claimed they had been injured from smoking or sought compensation for medical expenses. Rather, they sought damages based upon alleged false marketing.
In August 2005, U.S. District Judge James Trimble of Lake Charles dismissed part of the suits, saying the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act does not cover conduct in compliance with federal law.
But the judge rejected the companies' stand that since their marketing practices were in compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, the suits should be thrown out entirely. The 5th Circuit panel, which heard both cases in a combined appeal, disagreed and returned them to Trimble for dismissal.
David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which acquired Brown & Williamson in 2004, said the 5th Circuit "has made clear that lawsuits attacking the term 'lights' and the marketing of 'light' cigarettes are at odds with the comprehensive cigarette labeling system that Congress has established. As a result, any such lawsuits are barred under federal law."
A spokesman for Philip Morris, a unit of Altria Group Inc., said the appellate court reached the correct ruling.
"We have long maintained that the U.S. Congress and the Federal Trade Commission created a regulatory scheme for marketing low tar and "lights" cigarettes, and that this type of lawsuit is legally improper as a result of that federal law and regulation," William S. Ohlemeyer, Philip Morris USA vice president and associate general counsel, said in a statement released late Thursday.
Plaintiff attorneys were not available for immediate comment.
"It's a pretty thorough victory for the companies," said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who specializes in products liability law. "The 5th Circuit completely throws out the case. That's my reading. The tobacco companies are doing pretty well in these light cases."
Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out a $10 billion verdict against Philip Morris in a state class-action lawsuit that involved 1.1 million people who bought "light" cigarettes in Illinois. The plaintiffs in the Louisiana cases wanted to represent anyone who had purchased a pack of "light" cigarettes in the state since 1971.
The 5th Circuit's decision, dated Feb. 14, was posted on the court's Web site on Thursday.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.