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Legal news from Sunday, February 27, 2011




Tobacco companies file lawsuit against FDA advisory panel
Carrie Schimizzi on February 27, 2011 2:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] Two tobacco companies filed a lawsuit [press release] in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Friday against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] in order to enjoin a recent opinion by the agency's advisory committee due to conflicts of interest. The suit, filed by Lorillard, Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company [corporate websites] seeks to prevent the FDA from relying on a forthcoming recommendation on the use of menthol in cigarettes [Reuters report]. The suit alleges that three members of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee [official website], Doctors Neil Benowitz, Jack Henningfield and Jonathan Samet, have made thousands of dollars as expert witnesses in litigation against tobacco product manufacturers and have "continuing financial relationships" with pharmaceutical companies that make smoking-cessation products. The FDA is not required to comply with the advisory committee's recommendation, but the tobacco companies fear any ban on menthol cigarettes. The recommendation is expected to be released by March 23, 2011.

Just last year, the FDA announced [press release] a final rule [text] restricting tobacco sales and promotions [JURIST report] directed at youth. The Regulations Restricting the Sale and Distribution of Cigarettes and Smokeless Tobacco to Protect Children and Adolescents are a set of broad regulations "designed to significantly curb access to and the appeal of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to children and adolescents in the United States." In 2009, US President Barack Obama [official website] signed into law [JURIST report] the Family Smoking and Tobacco Prevention Act [HR 1256 text], which grants the FDA certain authority to regulate tobacco products. The legislation heightens warning-label requirements, prohibits marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative, and allows for the regulation of cigarette ingredients. Under the bill, the FDA has the authority to regulate tobacco products but does not permit the agency to regulate tobacco leaf that is not in the hands of tobacco product manufacturers or producers of tobacco leaf, including tobacco growers, tobacco warehouses, or tobacco grower cooperatives. The FDA first began to regulate the tobacco industry in 1996, but, in 2000 the US Supreme Court ruled in FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. [opinion text] that Congress had not provided the FDA with the authority to regulate tobacco products.




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Court rules $10.1 billion class action against Philip Morris may be reopened
Carrie Schimizzi on February 27, 2011 1:59 PM ET

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[JURIST] A three-judge panel for the Illinois Court of Appeals for the Fifth District [official website] on Thursday unanimously decided to reopen a $10.1 billion class action against Philip Morris [corporate website] involving deceptive marketing practices in light of a favorable 2008 US Supreme Court ruling on the subject matter. The class represented in the lawsuit [Duke Law backgrounder] claims that Philip Morris violated state law when it misled consumers into thinking that "light" cigarettes were safer and contained less tar. The plaintiffs allege that the light cigarettes actually contain a more toxic form of tar than the original brand. The trial court originally found on behalf of the plaintiffs, but the Illinois Supreme Court [official website] overturned the verdict in 2005 stating that Philip Morris could not be held liable under state law due to the fact that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] allowed the use of "light" on cigarette packaging. The US Supreme Court [official website] in 2006 affirmed [opinion, PDF] the Supreme Court's ruling and the case was dismissed. However, in 2008 the US Supreme Court, in a case concerning the marketing of "light" cigarettes, ruled [opinion, PDF] that state consumer protection laws can be used to hold cigarette companies liable. A lawyer for Philip Morris calls the claims "meritless" and says that the court's ruling was based on a statute of limitations [AP report] and not the merits of the case.

Philip Morris and other cigarette companies are currently involved in numerous lawsuits. Last year, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds [corporate website], along with an industry trade group, filed an appeal [cert. petition, PDF; JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court to overturn a $271.5 million class action settlement. The settlement was awarded [judgment, text] by the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] in order to establish a fund meant to help Louisianans quit smoking. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned class action certification [JURIST report] for a lawsuit brought by "light" cigarette smokers against Philip Morris and other light cigarette makers. The class action, which included anyone who has ever bought light cigarettes since they hit the market in the 1970s, had alleged that tobacco companies used deceptive advertising tactics to mislead smokers in response to growing health concerns over the risks of smoking cigarettes. In September 2006, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York certified the class of 50 million plaintiffs [JURIST report] for the class-action suit. Lawyers estimated that sales of light cigarettes brought tobacco companies between $120 billion and $200 billion in extra sales since 1971.




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Egypt considers term limits, presidential nomination reform
Drew Singer on February 27, 2011 11:52 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Egyptian military's judicial committee on Saturday proposed a constitutional amendment that would impose an eight-year term limit on the presidency in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the 30-year reign of former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile]. The proposed constitutional amendments also make it easier for a candidate to obtain a nomination. The existing Egyptian Constitution [text] required the support of 250 elected officials, whereas the proposed changes will call for the signatures of just 30 parliamentarians [Al Jazeera report]. The changes will make it more difficult for a president to maintain the state of emergency laws [text, in Arabic] that Mubarak kept in place for nearly 30 years. The committee was appointed by Egypt's military, which is running the country until an election is held in six months. The military council stated that it will issue a snap referendum [Reuters report] next month on the proposed constitutional amendments and plans to have the vote complete by the end of March.

Last week Egypt's chief prosecutor requested that Foreign Ministry officials take steps to freeze any foreign assets belonging to Mubarak [JURIST report] and his family. Prosecutor Abdel Magid made the request even though Mubarak submitted a declaration of wealth indicating that he possessed no foreign assets. Mubarak stepped down after nearly three weeks of demonstrations [Al Jazeera report] protesting the Egyptian government and calling for his resignation. His resignation left state affairs in the hands of the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which pledged to lift the country's emergency laws [JURIST report] that were in place for nearly 30 years once circumstances in the country improved. The Council also vowed to have a peaceful transition to power and promised not to prosecute "honourable people who refused corruption and demanded for reform."




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UN Security Council unanimously imposes sanctions on Libya
Drew Singer on February 27, 2011 10:32 AM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Security Council [official website] on Saturday voted unanimously [press release] to impose sanctions on Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi [NYT profile], marking the first unanimous referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] in UN history. Resolution 1970 [text] also received support from Libya's delegation itself, which renounced Gaddafi on Friday [Reuters report]. Libya's UN Ambassador Abdurrahman Shalgam, who use to be a close confidant of Gaddafi, stated [NY Times report] that the resolution could help end the "fascist regime" in the north African country. The sanctions include an arms embargo, the freezing of assets, and a travel ban on 16 Libyan leaders. Although Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute [text], which created the ICC, the Security Council voted that it should nonetheless be subject to its investigation.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] on Friday adopted a resolution [text, DOC] condemning the recent violence in Libya and ordering an international inquiry into alleged abuses [JURIST report]. During a special session, the 47-member council unanimously adopted the resolution, which also calls upon the Libyan government to protect its population and respect the will of its people. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] spoke to the UNHRC [JURIST report] earlier Friday, calling for the Libyan government to stop the violence directed at protesters [transcript] and for the Council to rise to action. The protests began last week following those that have occurred throughout the Middle East and North Africa [BBC backgrounder], resulting in the resignations of Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak [JURIST reports]. Protesters have demanded Gaddafi's resignation and government reform.




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