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Supreme Court to decide if Maine smokers can sue

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The case, Altria Group v. Stephanie Good, is one of two high-profile cases on the Supreme Court's docket this fall raising the issue of federal preemption of state laws and regulations. On Nov. 3, the court is set to hear the case of a Vermont musician whose right hand and forearm were amputated because of a physical reaction to an injected antinausea drug. That suit charges that drug manufacturer Wyeth violated state law by failing to adequately warn consumers about possible dangerous effects from the injection of one of its drugs. Like Altria, Wyeth is urging the justices to dismiss the state lawsuit as preempted by federal law and regulations.

"For most businesses, federal preemption is the hot-button issue of the term," says Robin Conrad of the US Chamber of Commerce's National Chamber Litigation Center.

"The court finds itself once again in the thick of an explosive national debate over whether, how, and when federal law displaces state law," Ms. Conrad told reporters in a recent briefing.

"For companies trying to compete in a fast-paced global economy, the question comes down to who gets to regulate your business," she said. "Should it be a single set of uniform national rules, or should your business be regulated by 50 attorneys general, thousands of municipalities, and hundreds of disparate jury verdicts?"

In defense of states' watchdog role

Consumer advocates, trial lawyers, and state attorneys general say federal preemption can make it more difficult to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive business practices. State laws designed to protect citizens at the local level should operate in concert with federal regulations and do not create difficult obstacles for national businesses, they say.

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