Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly

533 U.S. 525 (2001)

Quick Summary

Lorillard Tobacco Co. (plaintiff) contested Massachusetts’ tobacco advertising restrictions implemented by Attorney General Reilly (defendant), asserting preemption by FCLAA and First Amendment violations. The dispute centered on whether state regulations could restrict cigarette advertising locations and promotional methods.

After litigation in lower courts, the Supreme Court decided some state regulations were preempted by federal law and others infringed on constitutional protections for commercial speech, partially overturning prior rulings.

Facts of the Case

Lorillard Tobacco Co. (plaintiff) along with other tobacco manufacturers challenged comprehensive regulations set forth by the Attorney General of Massachusetts, Thomas F. Reilly (defendant). These regulations restricted tobacco advertising and sales practices, aiming to curb tobacco use among children.

Specifically, they prohibited tobacco advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds, mandated that ads be placed above five feet in stores near these areas, and restricted the location and accessibility of tobacco products in retail venues.

The legislation was a response to perceived inadequacies in a national settlement with cigarette manufacturers that had sought to address the same public health concerns. The plaintiff argued that the regulations were preempted by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (FCLAA) and violated the First Amendment.

The case reached the Supreme Court after a district court partially upheld the regulations and an appellate court affirmed this decision.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Lorillard Tobacco Co. filed suit against the Attorney General of Massachusetts in federal district court.
  2. The district court upheld most of the state’s restrictions but invalidated some point-of-sale advertising restrictions.
  3. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s preemption holding and the validity of outdoor advertising restrictions under the First Amendment, but reversed the invalidation of point-of-sale restrictions.
  4. Lorillard Tobacco Co. petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, which was granted.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether certain cigarette advertising regulations are preempted by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (FCLAA) and whether certain regulations governing the advertising and sale of tobacco products violate the First Amendment.

Rule of Law

The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (FCLAA) precludes states from imposing any requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health with respect to cigarette packaging and advertising. The First Amendment protects commercial speech from undue governmental restriction, subject to intermediate scrutiny as established in Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of N. Y., 447 U.S. 557 (1980).

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court analyzed whether the Massachusetts regulations were preempted by examining the language and intent of the FCLAA. The Court noted that while FCLAA’s preemption provision is broad, it does not necessarily extend to all forms of state regulation on cigarette advertising, particularly those related to location rather than content.

The Court also scrutinized whether the regulations violated the First Amendment by applying the Central Hudson test for commercial speech, considering if the state’s interest was substantial, if the regulation directly advanced that interest, and whether it was more extensive than necessary.

Judicial reasoning also took into account past congressional intent on tobacco regulation, the specifics of Massachusetts’ regulations, and how they fit within a broader context of public health initiatives targeting youth exposure to tobacco marketing.


The Supreme Court held that some of the Massachusetts regulations were preempted by the FCLAA and others violated the First Amendment. The decision affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Key Takeaways

  1. The FCLAA preempts state regulations that impose requirements or prohibitions on cigarette advertising based on smoking and health.
  2. State regulations affecting tobacco advertising must comply with First Amendment protections for commercial speech.
  3. The Supreme Court’s decision underscores the balance between federal preemption and state power to regulate for public health within constitutional limits.

Relevant FAQs of this case

How does federal preemption impact state regulatory powers?

Federal preemption arises when federal law supersedes or overrides state law in areas where Congress has intended to be the sole regulator. When preemption occurs, state laws or regulations that are in conflict with federal statutes are rendered invalid, as the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution dictates that federal law is the ‘supreme Law of the Land.’ This can significantly restrict the ability of states to pass legislation on subjects that are thoroughly regulated by the federal government.

  • For example: If Congress passes comprehensive environmental legislation, a state may be prohibited from enforcing its own stricter environmental rules in areas covered by the federal statute.

What constitutes a violation of First Amendment protections for commercial speech?

A violation occurs when a governmental regulation unduly restricts commercial speech without satisfying intermediate scrutiny. Under this standard, to be constitutional, a restriction must serve a substantial government interest, directly advance that interest, and be narrowly tailored to achieve the objective without being more restrictive than necessary. Regulations that fail to meet this standard typically either do not serve a significant interest or are overly broad in their approach.

  • For example: A city prohibition on all downtown billboard advertising would likely violate the First Amendment if it aims to reduce traffic distractions but could ban numerous types of advertisements unrelated to driving safety.

In what scenarios can state governments regulate for public health within constitutional limits?

State governments have the power to regulate for public health under their police powers but must do so within constitutional limits. They may implement regulations that protect public health as long as they do not infringe on federally protected rights or contradict federal laws. It’s essential that such regulations are based on sound scientific evidence or legitimate public health concerns and are proportionate to the interests at stake.

  • For example: A state might require restaurants to post calorie counts on menus to combat obesity without violating constitutional limits, provided there’s no conflicting federal law barring this regulation.


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