Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said the Maine state law forbids companies from making fraudulent statements. He said it created a broader duty for companies that extended beyond actions merely related to "smoking and health" that are regulated by federal law.
"We conclude ... that the Labeling Act does not pre-empt state-law claims like respondents' that are predicated on a duty not to deceive," Justice Stevens writes.
In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should have enforced preemption in the case, and created a clear test for the lower courts. In Justice Thomas' view, the Maine smokers' lawsuit imposed obligations tied to the "effect of smoking upon health," and thus must be preempted.
"With this suit, [the smokers] seek to require the cigarette manufacturers to provide additional warnings ... or to prohibit them from selling these products with the 'light' or 'low-tar' descriptors," Justice Thomas writes. "This is exactly the type of lawsuit that is pre-empted by the Labeling Act."
The majority decision also holds that regulatory actions taken by the FTC concerning claims about tar and nicotine do not preempt the Maine smokers' suit.