The Florida Supreme Court has affiremd the rejection of the $145-billion US penalty levelled against tobacco companies six years ago.

The damages awarded in 2000 were the largest ever made by a U.S. jury.

In their decision issued Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court justices called the award excessive, and concurred with an Appeal Court decision that the case should never have been certified as a class-action lawsuit.

While the state's top court ruled against the massive initial judgment, it did reinstate a pair of individual damage awards including $2.9 million US to Mary Farnan and $4 million US to Angie Della Vecchia, who are both smokers sick with cancer.

The case dates back to 1994, when it was filed on behalf of all addicted smokers in the United States. The Appeal Court later ruled only Florida smokers could be part of the suit.

In May 2003, Florida's 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled the thousands of smokers who won the massive initial verdict in a class-action suit could not join against the tobacco industry. The Appeal Court said the smokers did not have enough in common to sue as a group.

The Appeal Court also ruled that the $145-billion US award would have violated Florida laws by bankrupting the companies.

Shares of U.S. tobacco companies rose in the wake of the court's decision.

Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, was up $4.43US at $77.76 US, while Reynolds American was up $4.59US at $118.95US on the NYSE.