Florida suit charges Philip Morris with deceptive advertising
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A lawsuit accusing Philip Morris of deceptive practices for marketing certain cigarettes as having low tar and nicotine has been certified as a statewide class action.
The Circuit Court lawsuit, filed on behalf of Florida smokes, alleges Philip Morris manipulated the design of Marlboro Light and Marlboro Ultra-Light cigarettes so they would register lower tar and nicotine compared to regular brands in tests.
But the smokers' lawyers say studies show that smokers of light cigarettes wanted a safer product, but ended up puffing harder, smoking more and covering up vent holes in the filter to compensate for low nicotine levels.
Similar state lawsuits targeting light cigarettes have been certified as class actions in Illinois, Massachusetts and California. Judges denied class actions in Pennsylvania and Arizona. A decision is pending in New Jersey.
Light cigarettes make up 86 percent of the U.S. market and Philip Morris wanted to keep its consumers addicted to nicotine, attorney Gary Farmer said.
``They intended to capitalize on a perceived desire by consumers for a healthier alternative, but they couldn't really make a healthier cigarette because then they would lose customers,'' he said.
The suit seeks reimbursement for Florida smokers who bought the cigarettes since they were introduced in 1971, which could be more than a million people.
Circuit Judge Lucy Brown certified the class action last Friday.
Bill Ohlmeyer, a Philip Morris vice president, said the cigarette maker likely would appeal the decision. Attorneys argued at a December hearing that each person smokes light cigarettes differently and that the product did provide lower tar and nicotine as advertised.
The plaintiffs' attorneys plan to ask the judge to prohibit Philip Morris from printing ``light,'' ``ultra-light'' or ``lower tar and nicotine'' on packs sold in Florida.
They also sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the maker of Winston Light and Salem Light, this month in West Palm Beach.