Lights' Hearing Postponed

Would-be class-action case put off for a month

NEW YORK -- A hearing that could help create a nationwide class-action lawsuit for millions of light cigarette smokers has been postponed until September 13, said the Associated Press.

The hearing in the case, which also is known as the Schwab case, for lead plaintiff Barbara Schwab, was originally set for August 14 at the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.

The case is being heard before Judge Jack Weinstein, a federal judge with a reputation for supporting large class-action cases as an efficient [image-nocss] means to force manufacturers to compensate consumers who are harmed by their products, AP said. Tobacco industry watchers have been monitoring the case closely because Weinstein has previously certified class-action cases against the cigarette makers.

The Schwab case alleges cigarette manufacturers violated the Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act by conspiring to mislead smokers into thinking light cigarettes were safer than regular smokes when the companies knew otherwise.

If Weinstein certifies the case, the cigarette companies will be able to appeal his decision to the more conservative Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, which has previously reversed many of Weinstein's decisions in past class actions.

Although several cigarette companies are named as defendants in the case, Schwab is seen as having special significance for Altria Group Inc., the parent of Marlboro Lights cigarette maker Philip Morris USA.