'Light' Cigarette Ruling's Potentially Heavy Toll on Tobacco Companies

By DAN CHILDS, ABC News Medical Unit

Today's 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against big tobacco for promoting "light" and "low tar" brands could send the corporations scrambling for ways to stay clear of a potential wave of lawsuits, claiming that marketing of these products violated state laws against deceptive practices.

A statement on behalf of Philip Morris USA by Murray Garnick, Altria client services senior vice president and associate general counsel, appeared on Altria's Web site today:

“While we had hoped for a dismissal based upon federal pre-emption, it is important to note that the Supreme Court made no finding of liability. We continue to view these cases as manageable, and the company will assert many of the strong defenses used successfully in the past to defend against this very type of case.”

But while Altria maintains in the statement that plaintiffs must still prove that the use of "light" and "lowered tar" labels constituted a deceptive practice, tobacco expert Stanton Glantz, professor in the division of cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco, says the ruling could mean the industry built on smoke will now come under some heavy fire:

"This is an important development that will allow public health forces to keep pressure on the tobacco industry to end its deceptive marketing of so-called 'light and mild' cigarettes," Glantz told the ABC News Medical Unit. "The tobacco industry has known for decades that these cigarettes are no safer than 'regular' cigarettes, but markets them to appeal to 'health concerned' smokers."

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