Arizona judge rejects light cigarette smokers class bid
NEW YORK, July 26 (Reuters) - An Arizona state court judge rejected an effort to certify a consumer fraud class action lawsuit on behalf of smokers who purchased ``light'' cigarettes made by Philip Morris U.S.A., the company said on Thursday.
Plaintiffs in the so-called ``Cocca Case'' wanted the court to order refunds of the money smokers spent to buy their cigarettes, Philip Morris U.S.A., the domestic cigarette unit of Philip Morris Cos. Inc..
The plaintiffs alleged that Philip Morris U.S.A. fraudulently marketed light and ultra-light cigarettes by implying that they are healthier than regular cigarettes, the company said.
``There is no question that there are no safe cigarettes, and it has been known for years that the amount of tar and nicotine each smoker receives depends on their individual smoking behavior,'' William Ohlemeyer, Philip Morris vice president and general counsel, said in a statement.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Roger Kaufman cited four reasons why the Cocca case failed to meet legal requirements for a class action and said any of the four was sufficient enough to justify the denial, according to Philip Morris, whose brands include Marlboro and Virginia Slims.
``Judge Kaufman recognized that there are a variety of factors involved in smoking behavior for each individual plaintiff that prevents these types of cases from being tried as a class action,'' Ohlemeyer said.
Kaufman also noted that the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for overseeing cigarette advertising and that ``advertising of light cigarettes (by the company) referred to government-mandated testing'' of tar and nicotine yields, Philip Morris said.
Ohlemeyer said efforts to have similar ``lights'' cases certified as class actions are pending in other states, and that Kaufman's call offers ``sound legal reasoning as to why these cases also should be denied class certification.''
Courts have now denied certification in two ``lights'' class actions. A case in Illinois has been certified and is scheduled for trial next year.
Shares of New York-based Philip Morris ended the day down 48 cents at $44.20, after skidding as low as $43.25 earlier on Thursday.