Altria Group, Inc. v. Good
In Altria Group, Inc. v. Good (2008) 555 U.S. 70, the plaintiffs brought state law claims against cigarette manufacturers, alleging that they fraudulently advertised that their light cigarettes had less tar and nicotine than regular brands.
After considering the scope of the express preemption provisions of the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (15 U.S.C. 1331 et seq.), the court held that the plaintiffs' state law fraud claims were not preempted by federal law.
The Altria court acknowledged that the language in the MDA's preemption provision was "much broader" than that in the statute before it.
The Altria court rejected the defendants' argument that the plaintiffs' claim was impliedly preempted because, if allowed, it would frustrate the FTC's (Federal Trade Commission) policy of promoting the consumption of low tar cigarettes. (Ibid.) The court reasoned that "even if such a regulatory policy could provide a basis for obstacle pre-emption, the defendants' description of the FTC's actions in this regard are inaccurate." (Ibid.)
The Supreme Court concluded that another federal statute, the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (Labeling Act; 15 U.S.C. 1331 et seq.), does not preempt claims by the plaintiffs that Altria's advertising of certain cigarettes as "light" and as providing "lowered tar and nicotine" constituted fraudulent advertising under the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act (MUTPA).
The express preemption provision at issue in the case, 15 United States Code section 1334(b), provides that "'no requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health shall be imposed under State law with respect to the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes the packages of which are labeled in conformity with the provisions of this chapter."
In interpreting this preemption provision, the Supreme Court noted that "the text of 1334(b) does not refer to harms related to smoking and health," but, rather, "it pre-empts only requirements and prohibitions--i.e., rules--that are based on smoking and health." (Altria Group, supra, 555 U.S. at p. 70.)
The court observed that because the MUTPA "says nothing about either 'smoking' or 'health,'" it "is a general rule that creates a duty not to deceive." (Ibid.)
Claims for fraudulent advertising brought under the MUTPA are not preempted under the Labeling Act because the MUTPA is not a law or regulation "based on" smoking or health:
"'The phrase "based on smoking and health" fairly but narrowly construed does not encompass the more general duty not to make fraudulent statements.'
In Altria, the respondent consumers, who were cigarette smokers, had alleged the petitioners, Philip Morris USA, Inc., and its parent company, Altria, falsely marketed their cigarettes as being "light" and containing lower tar and nicotine so as to convey to consumers that the products were less harmful than regular cigarettes.
They alleged petitioners violated the Maine Act by both fraudulently concealing information about unique design features of light cigarettes making their smoke more mutagenic, and affirmatively representing by use of the "light" and "lowered tar and nicotine" descriptors that their cigarettes would pose fewer health risks.
Aplying the "'fair but narrow reading'" of the Labeling Act's preemption clause as the Cippollone plurality had done, the court concluded the respondents' false advertising claims were not preempted because they were based on a "duty not to deceive as that duty is codified in the Maine Act," which has "nothing to do with smoking and health." (Altria, 172 L.Ed.2d at p. 408.)