New smokers' class action sought
A Palm Beach Circuit judge will decide whether Floridians who smoked Marlboro Lights or Marlboro Ultra-Lights can proceed with a class-action lawsuit against the cigarette maker.
The smokers contend they were deceived by cigarette maker Philip Morris, which allegedly persuaded people to switch to so-called light cigarettes rather than quit.
The lawsuit claims the switch did not alter the health risks of smoking. It points to studies that show people who smoke light cigarettes compensate for lower nicotine levels by smoking more, puffing harder and more frequently, or covering up vent holes in the filters.
A new study released last month by the University of California at San Diego, showed "light" cigarettes have not measurably improved public health in the past 30 years or lower older smokers' risk of lung cancer.
Judge Lucy C. Brown heard arguments on Tuesday about whether the claim meets the qualifications of a class action. If the judge rules that it does not, the lawsuit dies.
Plaintiffs' attorney Gary Farmer argued the light cigarettes were designed to deliver as much tar and nicotine as regular cigarettes and that Philip Morris engaged in deceptive trade practices in marketing the brands. They are seeking reimbursement for money spent on light cigarettes from February 1997 to February of this year.
One reason Philip Morris lawyers argued that all the smokers' claims should be tried separately, rather than lumped together in a class action, is because each smoker puffs differently. That affects the amount of tar and nicotine taken into the lungs, they said.
Philip Morris attorney Robert Heim told the judge that the cigarettes delivered what was advertised.
"They got lower tar and nicotine. They got what they paid for," he said.
This case, filed in February by lawyers around the country, is one of 12 potential class actions against Philip Morris in connection with its light products.
Similar lawsuits against the cigarette giant have been certified as class actions in Massachusetts and Illinois, and a decision is pending in New Jersey. A Pennsylvania judge denied a class action.
The tobacco companies have argued they are exempt from being sued in light cigarette cases because health warnings mandated by Congress are printed on every pack. The companies contend the warning should allow them to promote their products.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that tobacco companies cannot be held liable for not doing more to warn about the risks of smoking than what Congress ordered under the Federal Cigarette Labeling Act.