The Lights Go Back On

Appeals Court orders stay on cigarette labeling ruling in DOJ lawsuit

WASHINGTON -- The major cigarette makers are celebrating an at-least-temporary victory that will allow them to continue to sell and market products labeled lights, low tar and other such descriptors at least until an appeal of a judge's ruling that the labels mislead the public about the health hazards of smoking.

The court issued a stay on the order in the Department of Justice lawsuit, which basically means those product descriptors, like lights' and low tar,' can continue to be on [products] until the appeal process is concluded, David Howard, spokesperson [image-nocss] for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Winston-Salem, N.C., told CSP Daily News.

Tuesday's decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also allows the companies to continue for now the advertising campaigns that a federal judge in August ruled were misleading.

Without comment, the appeals court granted the tobacco companies' request to put Judge Gladys Kessler's order on hold, according to report from the Associated Press. The companies have argued that her far-reaching ruling could cost them millions of dollars and lead to a loss of customers, the report said.

In mid-August, Kessler ruled that the companies had violated racketeering laws and conspired for decades to mislead the public about the health hazards of smoking.

The judge ordered the companies to publish in newspapers and on their Web sites corrective statements on the adverse health effects and addictiveness of smoking and nicotine. R.J. Reynolds spent two months updating its Web site to remove all references to light cigarette products. We had evaluated the positions that we had iterated on our Web site and had to make sure that everything was in line with the order, Howard said.

As of yesterday, Lorillard Tobacco Co.'s Web site was still out of commission, noting only, The Web site of Lorillard Tobacco Co. is currently under review by the company. Please check back to the site later.

Kessler also had ordered tobacco companies to stop labeling cigarettes as low tar, light, ultra light or mild, since such cigarettes have been found to be no safer than others because of how people smoke them. Kessler's ruling was appealed by Philip Morris USA and its parent Altria Group Inc., RJR, Lorillard Inc., Brown & Williamson Corp. and British American Tobacco PLC.

"Philip Morris USA and Altria Group Inc. are pleased that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed implementation of Judge Kessler's remedies order in the Department of Justice lawsuit until the companies are able to appeal the merits of the case, said William S. Ohlemeyer, Altria Group's vice president and associate general counsel, in a statement. The company believes the trial court's decision is contrary to the law and facts presented during trial, and looks forward to the opportunity to present its arguments to the appellate court.

Howard echoed that sentiment. We are certainly pleased with the court's decision to stay the case while we appeal, he said. We have a strong case for appeal, and we look forward to presenting our arguments.

William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the appeals court stay was not surprising. Judge Kessler's finding was that these companies have lied to the American people for 50 years, Corr told AP. We're confident that, if it means going all the way to the Supreme Court, the government's case will be vindicated and the industry will be held accountable.

The three-judge appeals court panel was divided 2-1 on whether to block the order, with Republican-appointed Judges David B. Sentelle and A. Raymond Randolph in the majority and Democratic appointee Judge David S. Tatel in dissent. The court will consider written and oral arguments in the case. No date has been set for arguments. It could be more than a year before an opinion is released.

Tobacco analyst Bonnie Herzog will discuss this and other trends affecting the tobacco industry during a CSPNetwork CyberConference "Tobacco Update" on Tuesday, November 14. Click here to register.

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