Class-action suit against tobacco firms dismissed
A San Diego judge has tentatively dismissed a class-action suit against major tobacco companies, ruling the legal action violates the free speech rights of the companies.
Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager issued his ruling Thursday. It came about a month before the case, brought by four San Diego teen-agers on behalf of all California minors who smoked a cigarette from April 1994 to December 1999, was scheduled for trial.
Prager's ruling will only become final later this month after those suing the companies have an opportunity to challenge it.
The suit charged the companies with intentionally targeting teen-agers in marketing cigarettes in order to get them addicted. It sought to ban advertising aimed at teens and force the companies to forfeit profits from cigarette sales to minors.
But Prager ruled there was no evidence of "any tobacco advertisements that expressly or directly encourage the purchase of tobacco by minors or the sale of tobacco to minors by retailers."
He further said that the restrictions sought by the plaintiffs to curb the advertising amount to "unconstitutional restrictions on commercial speech under the First Amendment."
Tobacco companies hailed the ruling.
"Reynolds tobaccos does not want kids to smoke, and we advertise our brands only to adult smokers," said Daniel W. Donahue, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for R.J. Reynolds, one of the companies named in the suit. Attorneys for the youths said they were surprised by the ruling, which relied in part on a recent Supreme Court decision that limited states' efforts to constrain tobacco advertising under the First Amendment.
"We respect this judge, but we respectfully disagree with his analysis and interpretation here," said John F. McGuire Jr. a San Diego attorney representing the plaintiffs.
Attorneys can try to change Prager's mind by asking for a hearing, which would be held Sept. 30.