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Supreme Court to decide if Maine smokers can sue

The case, to be heard Monday, will determine if the smokers' suit alleging fraudulent ads about 'low tar' cigarettes can go to trial.

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The tobacco company Altria Group is asking the US Supreme Court to short-circuit a class action lawsuit by angry smokers who say they were misled into believing that "low tar" and "light" cigarettes are a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes.

A group of smokers in Maine filed suit against Philip Morris USA and its parent company, Altria, charging that the companies engaged in a decades-long fraud on Maine smokers in violation of state laws against deceptive business practices.

Altria responded to the suit by arguing that its products are regulated by federal law and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), not the State of Maine. A federal judge agreed and dismissed the smokers' suit. But the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston reinstated the action, ruling that the state lawsuit is not preempted by federal law.

On Monday, the dispute arrives at the US Supreme Court, where the justices are being asked to decide whether the Maine suit can proceed to trial or must be dismissed because it intrudes into the exclusive realm of a federal regulatory agency, the FTC.

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