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For those of you who have been keeping a cynical eye on the case of Altria v. Good, worried that the outcome would confirm your worst fears about the behemoth that has become federal preemption, you can go ahead and open your other eye in celebration: the tobacco companies lost!

In a 5 to 4 decision today, the US Supreme Court stated that federal law does not preempt, or destroy legal grounds for, lawsuits against tobacco companies for defrauding the public with misleading advertising claiming that their “light” cigarettes offered lower levels of tar and nicotine than “regular” cigarettes.

Justice Stevens’ majority decision reads:

"When addressing questions of express or implied preemption, we begin our analysis with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States are not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress." "Thus," it continues, "when the text of a pre-emption clause is susceptible of more than one plausible reading, courts ordinarily accept the reading that disfavors preemption."

The tobacco companies’ argument, in Altria v. Good, was that federal law preempted plaintiff claims that Phillip Morris had violated Maine laws prohibiting misleading advertising in the case of their “light cigarettes.”

The tobacco companies contended that the plaintiffs’ claims were: (1) expressly preempted by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act and (2) impliedly preempted by the "efforts of Congress and the [Federal Trade Commission] for 40 years to implement a national, uniform policy of informing the public about the health risks of smoking." The Court firmly rejected both express and implied preemption.

This is great news for all of us who are ready for the states to be allowed to fight for consumers who are harmed by dangerous products and deceptive marketing. To read the Atria decision for yourself, click here.

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