Defeat of “Class Action Fairness" Legislation is a Victory for Public Health and a Defeat for Big Tobacco

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

Oct. 22 2003

Washington, DC — Today, the U.S. Senate scored a victory for the legal rights of all Americans by defeating the so-called “Class Action Fairness Act of 2003." The effect of this ill-conceived legislation would have been to unfairly deny the rights of citizens to bring lawsuits in their own state, including lawsuits against the tobacco industry.

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.

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.

The Senate was right to stop this brazen attempt to deny citizens of any state the ability to seek justice from the tobacco companies under their own state laws and in their own state courts. The legislation would have only provided additional protections for the tobacco companies at a time when what we really need is additional protections for those harmed by tobacco addiction.

 

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