The United States Constitution provides that federal law, as enacted by Congress: "shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State notwithstanding." A finding of preemption of state law usually requires that Congress either explicitly say that it intends to overrule the state law, or that it implicitly overrules the state law by so closely regulating the activity that it leaves no room for state law.
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the federal law regulating the warning labels on cigarette packages preempted state law claims that cigarette manufacturers have not properly warned consumers of the risks of cigarettes. The law governing cigarette labels specified the form and content of the labels, and prevented states from imposing any other requirements on cigarette advertising. The plaintiff claimed that she had not been properly warned about the dangers of cigarette smoking, and that the advertising of cigarettes tended to downplay the federally mandated warnings.
In determining whether the federal law preempted the plaintiff's state law claims, the Court looked to the result of allowing the plaintiff to proceed on her failure to warn and misrepresentation claims. If plaintiff was allowed to claim that the labeling was inadequate, then the cigarette manufacturer would have to change its labeling or risk losing an endless stream of lawsuits. The result would be the same as if the state legislature passed a law requiring a different label on cigarette packages, an action that was clearly at odds with federal law. The Court concluded that the federal law preempted the plaintiff's state law tort claims to the extent that these claims depended on the content of the cigarette package labeling or advertising.
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