Argument: Defamation

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United States v. Philip Morris USA [United States] [November 27, 2012]

In 1999, the United States filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the major cigarette manufacturers and related trade organizations alleging that defendants, while acting as an enterprise, fraudulently misled American consumers for decades about the risks and dangers of cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke in violation of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In 2006, the court found that defendants violated RICO and that there was a reasonable likelihood that defendants would continue to violate RICO in the future. On appeal, the district court’s findings were upheld, in part, vacated, in part, and remanded, in part, to the district court. After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from both sides in the case in June 2010, the district court began to implement the 2006 final order.

This opinion by the District Court specifies language the tobacco companies must publish to correct previous false and misleading conduct by the tobacco companies.  The court announces five subject headings each with specific corrective statements. After describing the required language the court provides a detailed legal analysis of the First Amendment grounds supporting the requirements.  The court then dismisses other alternative challenges brought by the tobacco companies.

TAPDK v. Dagli [Turkey] [May 31, 2011]

A tobacco control advocate made statements in the news that were critical of the national tobacco regulatory agency and its relationship with tobacco companies.  The government agency sued for defamation and libel. The court decided that the statements in the news article in question were made in concurrence with the rights to report news and to criticize and inform the public. They were in compliance with apparent reality, constituted current news, and could not be considered as personal tort. The court further maintained that the publication of the news article was for public good and for public interest. Based on the above, the court decided to dismiss the libel case of TAPDK.

Stewart, et al. v. Rolling Stone, L.L.C., et al. [United States] [January 28, 2010]

Plaintiffs, 186 musical artists, claimed that Rolling Stone Magazine and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company knowingly and deliberately associated their names with an advertisement for Camel brand cigarettes without the artists' prior authorization by placing their names within the same five-page "feature" in the magazine's issue. The defendant magazine and the producer of Camel brand cigarettes, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, defended the advertisement as falling within non-commercial speech protected under the Constitution. The trial court found that the defendants had included the plaintiffs "inextricably" in the advertisement and that it had constituted commercial speech. The trial court therefore refused to dismiss the case at the request of the defendants. The Court of Appeals of California, First District, Division One, reversed the trial court's decision, finding that the advertisement was non-commercial as a matter of law, in part, because the magazine did not directly benefit from the sale of the advertised cigarettes and the cigarette company played no role in designing the advertisement. Moreover, there was no evidence of actual malice on the part of the defendants. Therefore, the Court of Appeals found that the advertisement was fully protected under the right to free speech under the Constitution.

American Legacy Foundation v. Lorillard Tobacco [United States] [July 17, 2006]

In this decision of the Supreme Court of Delaware, Lorillard Tobacco challenged the advertising of the American Legacy Foundation as a violation of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between 46 states Attorney Generals and the nation’s largest tobacco companies.  The terms of the MSA created and funded Legacy to advocate against smoking and tobacco use, but also included limitations on how Legacy could advocate.  One of the limitations was that Legacy could not participate in "vilification" or "personal attacks" of the tobacco companies or their executives.  Among its advocacy efforts, Legacy developed an advertising campaign called “The Truth” ( which created advertisements targeted at catching the attention of young people.  Lorillard challenged the ads as a violation of the MSA, claiming they vilified and personally attacked the company and its employees.   Agreeing with the Chancery Court, the Supreme Court held the advertisements did not meet the legal standard of vilification or personal attacks.  While expressly excluding the dictionary citations offered by the parties, the Court looked at the use of the words in prior case law to determine their legal meaning.  The Court found vilification to indicate strong negativity above disparagement and personal attacks to require specific individual targeting.  Applying these definitions to the challenged advertisements the Court agreed with the summary judgment of the trial court and dismissed Lorillard’s contract claim.

Tobacco Institute of New Zealand Limited of Auckland v. Television New Zealand Ltd [New Zealand] [March 09, 2000]

The Tobacco Institute of New Zealand (Institute) complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority of New Zealand (Authority) that Television New Zealand (TVNZ) had broadcasted a documentary about the tobacco industry, which allegedly portrayed tobacco industry executives in an inaccurate and unbalanced manner and encouraged employment discrimination of Maori women by depicting them as heavy smokers. The Institute claimed that such distortions violated broadcasting laws, which require standards of accuracy and reasonableness in reporting. The Authority dismissed the complaint, finding TVNZ did not present inaccurate information because the documentary adequately distinguished statements of opinion from fact. The Authority also found that TVNZ had not presented an unbalanced depiction of the tobacco industry because TVNZ's focus on the industry was "peripheral" to the program's larger anti-smoking theme. The Authority further found that the comments made about Maori women and smoking were too tenuous to subject Maori women to employment discrimination.