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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tobacco industry litigation to deter local public health ordinances: the industry usually loses in court


Background: The tobacco industry uses claims of state preemption or violations of the US Constitution in litigation to overturn local tobacco control ordinances. Methods: Collection of lawsuits filed or threatened against local governments in the USA; review of previously secret tobacco industry documents; interviews with key informants. Results: The industry is most likely to prevail when a court holds that there is explicit preemption language by the state legislature to exclusively regulate tobacco. The industry has a much weaker record on claims of implied preemption and has lost all challenges brought under equal protection claims in the cases we located. Although the tobacco industry is willing to spend substantial amounts of money on these lawsuits, it never won on constitutional equal protection grounds and lost or dropped 60% (16/27) of the cases it brought claiming implied state preemption. Conclusions: Municipalities should continue to pass ordinances and be prepared to defend them against claims of implied preemption or on constitutional grounds. If the ordinance is properly prepared they will likely prevail. Health advocates should be prepared to assist in this process.

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