"Class Action Fairness" Bill Would Benefit the Tobacco Industry, Not Public Health

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Oct. 21 2003

Washington, D.C. — The so-called "Class Action Fairness Act of 2003" scheduled to be considered by the U.S. Senate later this week, is grossly misnamed, since the effect of this legislation would be to unfairly deny the rights of citizens to bring lawsuits in their own state, including lawsuits against the tobacco industry. We urge Members of Congress to vote against this harmful bill.

While the bill applies to a broad range of class actions, it would especially benefit the tobacco industry, providing the type of protection from legitimate lawsuits that the industry has sought for years. The legislation would allow the tobacco industry and other corporations facing class action cases to move cases filed in state court to a more industry-friendly federal court. The tobacco industry generally prefers to litigate in federal court where the rules for certifying class actions are often more favorable to corporate defendants.

Class action litigation at the state level has been an effective tool for holding the tobacco industry accountable for its misdeeds. The decision in the Price/Miles case in Illinois earlier this year demonstrates that class action cases continue to be an effective mechanism for addressing the systematic misdeeds committed by the tobacco companies. As the judge in the Illinois case found, Philip Morris knew from its own research that light cigarettes were no safer than regular brands, but for decades deceptively marketed these cigarettes as reducing smokers' health risks. This ruling holds Philip Morris accountable for this irresponsible, harmful conduct.

The tobacco industry does not need more protection against citizen suits. If anything, citizens need more protection against tobacco industry wrongdoing. In a November 2001 report, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) concluded that the marketing of "light" and "low-tar" products as delivering less tar and reducing risk is "deceptive" and smokers' choice of these products as an alternative to quitting makes this deception an "urgent public health issue." Without the threat of such litigation there is no incentive for the tobacco industry to discontinue their deceit.

The Price/Miles case was brought on behalf of Illinois residents because Philip Morris deceived the citizens of Illinois. There is no reason that affected individuals should be prohibited from filing a lawsuit in their state's court system simply because the offending company is headquartered in different state. Under this legislation, Illinois' residents would have their case moved from Illinois to federal court.

It is wrong for Congress to deny citizens of a state the ability to seek justice from the tobacco companies under their own state laws and in their own state courts. This bill does little more than provide additional protections for the tobacco companies at a time when what we really need is additional protections for those harmed by the tobacco companies.

 

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