Tobacco Disclosure Law Struck Down
BOSTON (AP) - A federal judge has declared the nation's first law requiring tobacco companies to list the ingredients of their products unconstitutional, saying it forces the companies to give away their trade secrets.
In a decision released Friday, U.S. District Court Judge George A. O'Toole said the law would make it easy for competitors to duplicate popular brands.
The law, passed in 1996, requires tobacco companies to submit lists of the substances added to cigarettes, snuff and chewing tobacco to the state Department of Public Health. The health department would keep the lists confidential unless it determined the ingredients posed a public health risk.
Companies who refuse to comply would be prohibited from doing business in Massachusetts.
``It is clear that the plaintiffs have made substantial investments in the development and protection of their brand-specific ingredient information, and that there would be a substantial loss of competitive advantage if they were required to disclose that information for publication by the Commonwealth,'' O'Toole wrote.
The measure was put on hold after tobacco companies Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., and U.S. Tobacco Co. filed suit.
O'Toole acknowledged the state was trying to promote public health by advising consumers of cigarette contents, but concluded it was impossible to predict how much protection the disclosures would provide.
Anti-smoking advocates criticized the ruling.
``Based on this decision, we know much more about what's in a box of cereal than in a package of cigarettes,'' state health commissioner Howard Koh said. ``We're talking about a product that causes over 10,000 deaths a year in Massachusetts and it's astonishing that we are trying to protect any secrets about it.''
Attorney General Thomas Reilly said he may appeal the decision.
``We're obviously disappointed with the court's ruling,'' he said. ``The decision allows tobacco companies to sell products in Massachusetts which have serious, often fatal, health effects, without informing the public or state health officials of their contents.''
Texas and Minnesota also have disclosure laws, but the Texas law does not require public release, and the Minnesota law applies only to certain chemical compounds.
A federal disclosure law, passed in 1986, forces tobacco companies to disclose their ingredients to the U.S Department of Health and Human services. But the information is not provided on a brand-by-brand basis and is not made public.
Philip Morris said it was pleased with the ruling.
``We are not opposed to disclosing ingredients; we are opposed to turning over our proprietary brand recipes,'' said Philip Morris spokesman Brendan McCormick.