Court allows lawsuits over 'light' cigarettes

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that lawsuits may proceed against tobacco companies for allegedly deceptive marketing of "light" cigarettes.

In a 5-4 decision, the court said that smokers may use state consumer protection laws to sue cigarette makers for the way they promote "light" and "low tar" brands. The tobacco companies argued that the lawsuits are barred by the federal cigarette labeling law.

Justice John Paul Stevens, however, said in his majority opinion that the labeling law does not shield the companies from state laws against deceptive practices. People suing the cigarette makers still must prove that the use of 'light' and 'lowered tar' actually violate the state anti-fraud laws, but those lawsuits may go forward, Stevens said. He was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)