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CIPOLLONE v. LIGGETT GROUP

September 20, 1984

ROSE CIPOLLONE and ANTONIO CIPOLLONE, Plaintiffs,
v.
LIGGETT GROUP, INC., PHILIP MORRIS INCORPORATED, LOEWS CORPORATION, and LOEW'S THEATRES, INC., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SAROKIN

 INTRODUCTION

 Despite the growing evidence that cigarette smoking is indeed hazardous to one's health, as recognized in the warning mandated by Congress, a legislative decision has been reached not to prohibit it. Although that decision may be due in some measure to the ongoing medical dispute as to the risks involved, it is predicated to a large extent on economic considerations and the apparent willingness of millions of persons to continue smoking despite the known and unknown risks. Congress, in order to avoid another Prohibition, has decided to permit the manufacture and sale of cigarettes to continue, but has attempted to assuage its critics by regulating the industry and requiring it to affix a warning to each package sold.

 The legislative history of the Act here involved reflects a candid concern for the economy of the entire country if cigarette manufacturing were curtailed or eliminated. One would hope that those fiscal considerations were weighed against the costs of illness and death caused by cigarette smoking as well as the moral responsibility of protecting the young and future generations who have not yet begun to smoke.

 The clear purpose of the federal legislation was to establish a uniform warning which would prevail throughout the country. By so doing, cigarette manufacturers would not be subjected to varying requirements from state to state. However, the existence of the present federally mandated warning does not prevent an individual from claiming that the risks of smoking are greater than the warning indicates, and that therefore such warning is inadequate. The court recognizes that it will be extremely difficult for a plaintiff to prove that the present warning is inadequate to inform of the dangers, whatever they may be. However, the difficulty of proof cannot preclude the opportunity to be heard, and affording that opportunity will not undermine the purposes of the Act.

 Defendants' argument that the statute was intended to foreclose such claims is not borne out by either the language or legislative history of the Act. Simply stated, defendants contend that a cigarette manufacturer who utilizes the federal warning cannot be held liable in tort. Just as simply, that statement could have been incorporated into the statute, if that were the intention, but it was not. Before this court or any other court so cavalierly rejects fundamental principles of the common law, it should demand a much more definitive statement from Congress.

 The information regarding disease from smoking is growing. Medical and scientific opinion is divided. The impact on the economy is a factor considered by Congress and may well have caused a compromise in the content of the warning. Even Congress, which once declared that cigarette smoking " may be " hazardous, now finds that it "is" hazardous. This court believes that an individual injured while the warning was that cigarette smoking " may be hazardous to your health" would have been able to prevail if he or she was able to prove that "cigarette smoking is [was] hazardous to your health." Today even some greater warning may be appropriate, and variations are now being considered. In any event, no one should be deprived by virtue of congressional compromise of the opportunity of proving that contention absent a clear showing that Congress intended that they be so precluded.

 There are further claims asserted by plaintiff which likewise deserve their day in court. Thus, even if utilizing the federal warning relieves cigarette manufacturers of liability for failure to warn, the question remains whether they can be held liable for collateral efforts to neutralize or negate the effects of the warning. Efforts to convince the public that the risks do not exist or that they are minimal or unsupported by medical or scientific data may in and of themselves give rise to a cause of action; indeed they may even constitute a violation of the very statute which defendants brandish as a shield. Whether the present federally mandated warning is adequate and whether defendants have wrongfully attempted to neutralize that warning are thus issues which survive the federal statute and are not preempted by it.

 THE COMPLAINT

 Plaintiff Rose Cipollone is dying of lung cancer. She brings this products liability action against three cigarette companies, alleging that they are responsible for her current state. Her fourteen-count complaint sounds in strict liability (Counts 2, 3 and 9), negligence (Counts 4 and 5), intentional tort (Counts 6 and 8) and breach of warranty (Count 7). She claims that defendants have produced an unsafe and defective product (Counts 2 and 7), the risk of which outweighs its utility (Count 2), but have negligently (Count 4) or intentionally (Count 8) failed adequately to warn consumers of the hazards associated with cigarette smoking. See also Count 3 (strict liability for failure to warn). Indeed, she contends, defendants have negligently (Count 5) or intentionally (Count 6) advertised their products so as to neutralize and render ineffective those warnings actually given, warnings which are made meaningless in any event by the addictive qualities of cigarettes (Count 9). *fn1"

 Defendants have each answered, asserting as an affirmative defense, inter alia, that plaintiff's claims are preempted by the Federal Cigarette Labeling Act, as amended by the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1331 et seq. Plaintiff has moved to strike such defense. With the cross-motion of defendant Loew's Theatres, Inc. for judgment on the pleadings, the parties are now before the court on this difficult issue.

 The Act

 The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act

 Originally enacted in 1965, the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act ("the Act") followed a report of the Surgeon General of the United States concluding that cigarette smoking comprised a significant health hazard to Americans, warranting remedial action by Congress. As amended in 1970, the Act sets forth the following statement of policy:

 
It is the policy of the Congress, and the purpose of this chapter, to establish a comprehensive federal program to deal with cigarette labeling and advertising with respect to any relationship between smoking and health, whereby -
 
(1) the public may be adequately informed that cigarette smoking may be hazardous to health by inclusion of a warning to that effect on each package of cigarettes; and
 
(2) commerce and the national economy may be (A) protected to the maximum extent consistent with this declared policy and (B) not impeded by diverse, non-uniform, and confusing cigarette labeling and advertising regulations with respect to any relationship between smoking and health.

 15 U.S.C. § 1331. In order to effectuate these purposes, Congress provided that

 
It shall be unlawful for any person to manufacture, import, or package for sale or distribution within the United States any cigarettes the package of which fails to bear the following statement: "Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health." Such statement shall be located in a conspicuous place on every cigarette package, and shall appear in conspicuous and legible type in contrast by typograph, layout, or color with other printed matter on the package.

 15 U.S.C. § 1333. The Federal Trade Commission was given the authority to regulate cigarette advertising, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1335-36, and the district courts jurisdiction to enjoin violations of the Act. 15 U.S.C. § 1339. A minimal criminal penalty was also provided. 15 U.S.C. § 1338.

 Congress included within the Act a provision regarding preemption, and it is this provision which is now before the court for interpretation and application. Congress stated:

 
(a) No statement relating to smoking and health, other than the statement required by section 1333 of this title, shall be required on any cigarette package.
 
(b) No requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health shall be imposed under State law with respect to the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes the packages of which are labelled in conformity with the provisions of this chapter.

 15 U.S.C. § 1334. Plaintiff concedes that this section prohibits states from regulating cigarette packaging, and cigarette advertising by, for example, requiring a warning other than that set forth in the Act. She argues, however, that this provision does not preempt state common law claims such as those asserted by plaintiff.

 Preemption

 "The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof . . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." U.S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. From this simple mandate springs the doctrine of preemption, as first stated by Chief Justice Marshall in Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 6 L. Ed. 23 (1824):

 
The nullity of any act, inconsistent with the Constitution, is produced by the declaration, that the Constitution is the supreme law. The appropriate application of that part of the clause which confers the same supremacy on laws and treaties, is to such acts of the state legislatures as do not transcend their powers, but though enacted in the execution of acknowledged state powers, interfere with, or are contrary to, the laws of Congress, made in pursuance of the Constitution, or some treaty made under the authority of the United States. In every case, the act of Congress, or the treaty, is supreme; and the law of the state, though enacted in the exercise of powers not controverted, must yield to it.

 22 U.S. at 210-11. See also Fidelity Federal Savings & Loan Ass'n. v. De La Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 152, 73 L. Ed. 2d 664, 102 S. Ct. 3014 (1982) (preemption doctrine has its roots in the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution).

 From Gibbons v. Ogden on, courts have struggled with the question of whether federal law preempts state action. The problem is "largely one of statutory construction," and therefore "cannot be reduced to general formulas." L. Tribe, American Constitutional Law at 377 (1978). However, certain principles are clear. First, federal law may expressly preempt state law. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. State Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission, 461 U.S. 190, 103 S. Ct. 1713, 1722, 75 L. Ed. 2d 752 (1983), citing Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519, 525, 51 L. Ed. 2d 604, 97 S. Ct. 1305 (1977). Absent express preemption, ...


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