In a blow to the tobacco industry, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that California could continue to use cigarette tax revenue to pay for aggressive anti-smoking campaigns.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton dismissed a lawsuit filed in April by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation's second-largest cigarette maker, and Lorillard Tobacco Co.
The companies claimed that their constitutional rights had been violated because taxes on their products were being used to support ads that were against their interests. They said the ads contaminated the minds of potential jurors in smoking-related cases.
But the judge did not agree.
"Given that the tax is lawfully imposed, the money collected becomes the government's to expend as it sees fit, so long as those expenditures fall within legal limits," said Karlton's 57-page ruling, which was hailed by state officials and the American Cancer Society.
One of the television advertisements mentioned in the suit, titled "Testifiers," presents actors as tobacco industry executives who lie to questioners in regulatory hearings and media interviews.
Another TV ad, called "Rain," shows children playing in a schoolyard as cigarettes rain from the sky.
"Big Tobacco's desperate attempt to stop California's lifesaving campaign has been unsuccessful," Gov. Gray Davis said in a statement. "When Big Tobacco sued us, I said, 'Bring it on,' because I'm not backing down. California will continue to run aggressive ads because they work. They save lives and they save the taxpayers money."
State Health Director Diana M. Bonta said the decision allows the state to continue to spread the word that "tobacco kills."
The Department of Health Services produces the ads, which started running in 1990 and are paid for by a 25-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes.
"Nationwide, everyone has been waiting for this decision," Bonta said. "California is the worldwide leader in the anti-tobacco movement."
The companies will appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, Reynolds spokeswoman Ellen Matthews said.
"We still feel passionate about the reasons why we filed the lawsuit in the first place," Matthews said.
State officials said 16.6% of Californians smoked last year, compared with 22.8% in 1988.