Judge Limits Tobacco Ad Lawsuit
SAN DIEGO (AP) - A lawsuit accusing tobacco companies of placing advertisements in stores near youth-oriented products and using images that target minors will proceed without class-action status, a judge ruled.
While San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager left open the possibility of giving the suit class-action status at a later time, he noted that the plaintiffs were seeking damages that are available without the designation.
``I think it's going to be very difficult for you to get class action certification. ... Of course, the court could change its mind,'' the judge said at a hearing Thursday.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six San Diego area residents who began smoking when they were teens. If the suit were given class-action status, the people who brought it would be representing the interests of a larger group.
The suit claims that tobacco ads in stores are placed near candy shelves and at child's eye level and the images are deceptive and encourage minors to light up.
The suit seeks to stop tobacco companies from using images that appeal to underage smokers. It also seeks the profits from sales made on the ads targeted to youth, which David Markham, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, estimated at $650 million to $700 million.
``The Marlboro man paints a picture of rebellion and coolness and just an attitude I may have wanted my life to be at that time,'' said Daimon Fullerton, 22, a plaintiff who took his first puff at age 14.
Fullerton considers himself addicted to tobacco, smoking at least a pack a day.
Lawyers and spokespeople for the tobacco companies did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Thursday. Named as defendants are R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson, and Philip Morris.
Tobacco companies have said their in-store promotions neither target young people nor expose them to cigarettes.
The 1998 landmark agreement between tobacco companies and 46 states bars tobacco companies from targeting children in advertising.