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    California Anti-Tobacco Ad Lawsuit Dismissed

    Commercials are free speech issue, judge says. Companies will appeal.

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A federal judge Tuesday dismissed claims by two tobacco companies that California's tough anti-smoking ads unfairly smear their reputation, saying the ads are "simply the cost of living in a democracy."

    A spokeswoman for cigarette makers R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said the North Carolina-based company, along with Lorillard Tobacco Co., would appeal the ruling. The two tobacco firms -- which together claim 35 percent of California's tobacco market -- sued the state Department of Health Services in April to stop a series of ads that it said vilify tobacco companies and their executives, according to an Associated Press report. One such ad shows cigarettes raining down on school children, while a narrator says "We have to sell cigarettes to your kids. We need half a million new smokers every year just to stay in business."

    The case hinged on whether the ads are considered "government speech" or "compelled speech," in which the tobacco companies are forced to pay for ads they don't agree with. R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard claimed the ads violate their First Amendment right to free speech.

    State attorneys, however, argued last month in federal court that the government, and not the tobacco companies, pays for the ads. Under state law, California uses part of the 87-cent tax for every pack of cigarettes sold to pay for health education, including a media campaign discouraging people from smoking.

    U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton in Sacramento sided with state attorneys, saying "no one could possibly confuse the tobacco ads for the tobacco companies' own speech."

    R.J. Reynolds spokeswoman Ellen Matthews said the company would appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

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