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Masters of Smoke & Mirrors Come to Maine

10/26/2009
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Bangor, Maine’s most famous resident (no disrespect directed towards other Bangorians) is horror-writer extraordinaire Stephen King. It seems appropriate then that Bangor’s federal courthouse is the latest venue in which cigarette manufacturers’ horrific decades of long fraudulent practices will be put under the forensic microscope.

In 2005, Maine residents filed suit against cigarette manufacturing giant Philip Morris (i.e., Marlboro) and its parent company Altria Group, Inc., alleging that the cigarette makers advertised that their “light” cigarettes (i.e., Marlboro Light) deliver less nicotine and tar than regular brands, knowing that the message was, in fact, false.

The consumers relied on their state’s ‘Unfair Trade Practices Act.’ However, because of procedural rules, the lawsuit eventually ended up in federal court (as opposed to Maine state court), thus opening the door for Big Tobacco to rely on one of its hallmark excuses for its ghastly depravities: that the existence of a particular federal law – in this case the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act – prohibits this particular type of lawsuit brought under state law (aka federal preemption).

By relying on the Labeling Act – the landmark federal law requiring ‘warning labels’ on cigarette packs, the cigarette manufacturers make the excuse that because there are warning labels on cigarette packs, the fact that a consumer has been warned means that what we say in advertising about the virtues of our cigarettes is of no consequence and should have no effect on the consumer. Or, put another way, we feel that this law and the warning labels it produced, gives us the liberty to create the “facts” as we see fit.

However, a majority of the United States Supreme Court did not buy it, and in late 2008, issued its opinion in Altria Group, Inc. v. Good. We now find ourselves just one week before Halloween, the lawsuit brought by Maine residents against a charter member of the Big Tobacco fraternity is alive and well in Stephen King’s hometown … heres hoping that the Bangor Federal Courthouse will be a house of horrors for the defendants. Perhaps in this lawsuit the truth might yet bear out on “The Stand“.

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