A judge in Arkansas has granted class-action status to a lawsuit that claims Philip Morris USA deliberately exaggerated the safety of its Marlboro Lights cigarettes.
Attorneys for Philip Morris had argued that any lawsuits should be filed individually, but Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox approved class-action status for the litigation. Neither side estimated the number of potential plaintiffs, but lawyers for Philip Morris said the group would be the largest in Arkansas history, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
A company spokesman said Philip Morris will appeal the class-action designation.
The lawsuit was filed in 2003 and seeks refunds for every pack of Marlboro Lights sold in Arkansas from 1971 until 2009, when Congress banned tobacco companies from advertising cigarettes as “light” or “low-tar.” In 2010, Marlboro Lights were renamed Marlboro Gold, and Ultra Lights became Marlboro Silver.
The suit alleges that Philip Morris, which is part of Altria Group, deliberately deceived smokers about health risks of smoking light cigarettes.
Attorney Tom Thrash, representing the plaintiffs in the case, said Lights smokers wouldn’t have been bought the cigarettes if they knew the brand was riskier than regular cigarettes.
“They advertised in a deceptive manner in a way likely to deceive a reasonable consumer,” Thrash said.
Attorneys for Philip Morris denied deliberate deception and wrongdoing, saying that light cigarettes did what they were advertised to do – deliver less tar and nicotine. The company said the filters on Lights cigarettes were specially ventilated to reduce tar and nicotine, but smokers could get more by inhaling deeper or more often.
The company also argued that many consumers bought Lights cigarettes for reasons other than the reduced nicotine and low-tar claims – because of the taste, packaging or the brand’s reputation.
According to the suit, plaintiffs Wayne Miner of Franklin County and James Easley of Miller County smoked about two packs of Lights a day until learning about the health allegations in early 2000. The first two plaintiffs, Lisa Watson and Loretta Lawson, have withdrawn from the case.
Last month, a judge in California ruled in favor of Philip Morris in a similar case that sought up to $1 billion in restitution.