Monday, November 27, 2006


On the same day that The New York Times' lead editorial dealt with tobacconeer Phillip Morris' misleading, if not downright fraudulent PR campaign ostensibly intended to keep young people from smoking--it has no effect on teenagers, at best, and may actually lead to more teen smoking--the U.S.Supreme Court let stand a decision from the Illinois Supreme Court that threw out a $10.1 billion (that's "billion") verdict against the company for misleading smokers with its advertising for "light" cigarettes.

The Illinois court had ruled that PM had could not have defrauded anyone, because the Federal Trade Commission permitted cigarette manufacturers to describe their products as "light" or "low tar and nicotine."

While the Supreme Court does not take a position when it refuses to review a case from a lower court--and the refusal may be due to a wide range of reasons, both procedural and substantive--its decision not to hear an appeal always has implications in shaping the law.

For those non-lawyers in the audience, while the Illinois decision may sound plausible, it flies in the face of generations of jurisprudence that government regulation establishes a floor--that is, a standard that must be met--not a ceiling (i.e. a standard that absolves a manufacturer) from claims for negligence or wrongful conduct. However, the cigarette companies and other corporate interests have been working for years to have government regulations turned into exclusive definitions of safe products and, as you can see, they have succeeded all too often.

Money talks.

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