NEW YORK - Several tobacco companies plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a May ruling in a racketeering lawsuit that requires them to disclose more about the dangers of smoking and bars them from selling cigarettes as light or low tar.
The companies asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. on Monday not to enforce its May 22 ruling until the nation's highest court can decide whether to hear their appeal. The appeals court declined on Sept. 22 to reconsider the case.
Monday's motion seeking a delay was filed on behalf of Altria Group Inc and its Philip Morris USA Inc unit, British American Tobacco Plc, Lorillard Inc and Reynolds American Inc's RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co.
May's ruling had upheld a 2006 decision by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler finding the companies violated federal anti-racketeering laws by conspiring to lie about the dangers of smoking.
The appeals court also required the use of corrective statements on cigarette packages, in advertising and on he companies' websites about the adverse effects of smoking, and banned the use of expressions such as light and low tar in cigarette marketing.
Yet in a blow to anti-smoking groups, the appeals court also upheld Kessler's decision not to force the companies to fund a program to help people stop smoking.
In Monday's filing, the companies said there remain open issues concerning their First Amendment free speech rights, whether a racketeering charge was appropriate, and whether new comprehensive federal regulations governing every aspect of their businesses deprived the courts of jurisdiction.
They also said a delay would be equitable, contending they would be forced to expend substantial, unrecoverable funds to follow the May ruling, while they appeal, while no party would be prejudiced by the issuance of a stay.
The Clinton Administration had originally filed the case in 1999, seeking $289 billion of damages.
On Tuesday, meanwhile, the Canadian province of Ontario said it sued to recover C$50 billion (US$46 billion) of damages from tobacco companies for taxpayers' health care costs since 1955.
The case is U.S. v. Philip Morris USA Inc, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, No. 06-2567. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; additional reporting by Frank McGurty in Toronto; editing by Andre Grenon)