A U.S. appeals court has largely upheld a lower court ruling that cigarette companies, including Altria Group Inc and its Philip Morris USA unit, violated federal racketeering laws by conspiring to lie about the dangers of smoking.

We affirm the district court's judgment of liability in its entirety except as to (the trade groups) CTR and TI, with regard to which we vacate the judgment and remand with directions to dismiss them from the suit, the three-judge appeals court panel concluded in its 92-page ruling Friday.

The tobacco companies had appealed a decision from U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in August 2006 that the companies could no longer use expressions such as low tar or light in their cigarette marketing.

Companies and trade groups appealing her ruling were the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit of Reynolds American Inc, Lorillard Inc, Vector Group Ltd's Liggett Group, British American Tobacco Plc and its Brown & Williamson unit, the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)