July 22, 2003 - Judge Dismisses Tobacco Suit vs. California

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by big tobacco companies against the state of California in which they had challenged the state's anti-tobacco ads. The suit, by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Lorillard Tobacco Co, had claimed the ads violated the companies' right to free speech, since they had been funded through a special tax on tobacco sales. However, in dismissing the lawsuit, Federal Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the tobacco companies had failed to show that the anti-tobacco ads were misleading or false. "If the plaintiffs truly believe that the challenged advertisements are both provably false and disparaging to their business reputations, they are free to seek relief against the state of California or its officials in a defamation action."

Under California's voter-approved Proposition 99, the state imposes a 25-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes and uses the funds generated for smoking prevention and education efforts. R.J. Reynolds had maintained the anti-smoking ads funded by the program were "highly prejudicial, outrageous, and wrong." California, however, has defended the campaign and says it has helped to reduce the state's smoking rate.


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