Economy

Supreme Court Lets $270 Million Tobacco Award Stand

Cigarette makers must pay to help smokers in Louisiana quit their habit, as the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by tobacco companies in a landmark class-action case.

By refusing to throw out a $270 million jury award, the high court put an end to a case that began in May 1996, when some 500,000 smokers in Louisiana filed a class-action suit against tobacco companies.

As the AP reports, "The smokers prevailed at every step in state courts, but Justice Antonin Scalia temporarily blocked payment of the money in September, citing concerns that the cigarette makers might have been deprived of their legal rights."

Here's an excerpt from NPR's Debbie Elliott's report for Newscast:

Without comment, the court refused to throw out a jury award intended to help a half a million Louisiana smokers quit. The 2004 verdict came in one of the first tobacco cases brought by smokers who weren't sick, but claimed addiction as their injury.

The New Orleans jury found that the tobacco industry conspired to addict people to a hazardous product and committed fraud by trying to conceal the dangers. And it ordered a unique remedy: that cigarette makers set up a trust fund to pay for nicotine gum, patches and other aids to help smokers break their addiction.

Tobacco firms unsuccessfully argued that Louisiana smokers should not have been grouped together as a class, but that individuals should have to sue.

The initial case was filed against tobacco companies Philip Morris; R.J. Reynolds; Lorillard; and Brown and Williamson, among others.

Last week, the FDA updated the anti-smoking messages it includes on cigarette packages, using graphic images that are meant to turn people off of the habit.

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