Cigarette Suit First Up in New Supreme Court Term

The Supreme Court opens a new term Monday with denials expected in hundreds of appeals and arguments over limits on lawsuits against tobacco companies.

The court's term begins, by law, on the first Monday in October.

The justices had roughly 2,000 appeals before them at their private conference last week. They accepted 10 for argument next year and are expected to dispose of hundreds of others when they convene in their marble courtroom at 10 a.m.

The first case to be argued is a dispute over whether federal regulation of cigarettes prevents smokers from suing tobacco companies under state law for allegedly deceptive advertising of "light" cigarettes.

Three Maine residents sued Altria Group Inc. and its Philip Morris USA Inc. subsidiary under the state's law against unfair marketing practices. The company says a federal law on cigarette labeling and advertising rules out such lawsuits because it forbids states from imposing any requirements on the advertising or promotion of cigarettes.

The key to the case is whether the court views the suit as being about false advertising, which would tend to favor the smokers, or smoking and health, which could lead to a ruling for Altria.