Consumer fraud class-action lawsuit against tobacco company

Philadelphia, PA (March 22, 2003) — Illinois Judge ordered Philip Morris USA to pay $10.1 billion in the first “light cigarette” consumer fraud class-action lawsuit to come to trial alleging a tobacco company committed consumer fraud in its advertising of light cigarettes. The verdict will pave the way for Philadelphia counsel in many similar lawsuits across the country.
Judge Nicholas Byron ordered Philip Morris on Friday to pay $7.1 billion in compensatory damages and $3 billion in punitive damages to smokers of light cigarettes, for misleading smokers into believing “light” cigarettes are less harmful than regular labels. Philip Morris said it would appeal the verdict.

According to Stephen A. Sheller, Esquire, founding and managing partner of Philadelphia’s Sheller, P.C., “This ruling will certainly pave the way for many of the other ‘light cigarette’ consumer fraud cases we are pursuing throughout the United States.” Sheller successfully co-argued the Illinois class certification in this case and has “light cigarette” cases pending in 11 other states. Cases have been certified for class action status in Florida and Massachusetts. Mr. Sheller and co-counsel, Gary Farmer have been appointed by the Court as lead counsel for the Florida class.

Sheller said, “Plaintiffs argue tobacco companies defrauded customers by creating the impression that low-tar cigarettes were safer even though tobacco companies knew decades ago that ‘low-tar,’ ‘light,’ ‘ultra-light,’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes do not lower the risk of lung cancer. Plaintiffs allege tobacco companies deliberately designed ‘light’ cigarettes so they would receive low tar and nicotine ratings from the FTC while delivering substantially more tar and nicotine to most consumers.” Sheller said, “Plaintiffs argue the alleged fraudulent representation of safer cigarettes led smokers to switch to them rather than stop smoking.”

Richard Daynard, professor of law and Head of the Tobacco Control Resource Center and the Tobacco Products Liability Project, both based at Northeastern University School of Law, was recently quoted as saying that Stephen Sheller is “the commander of the light brigade,” referring to Mr. Sheller’s lead and on-going role in the litigation of plaintiffs’ claims against the international manufacturers and marketers of Light Cigarettes.

The Illinois lawsuit was filed on behalf of 1 million Illinois smokers who smoked the two light brands — Marlboro Lights and Cambridge Lights. The “light cigarette” theory in this case claimed that Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro Lights and Cambridge Lights cigarettes, knew the light brands were just as unhealthy as regular cigarettes when it introduced them in the 1970s, but marketed them as a healthier alternative.

Judge Byron, of the Third Circuit in Madison County agreed, writing that the company “intended to deceive consumers into believing that Marlboro Lights and Cambridge Lights were less harmful or safer than their regular counterparts.” The company says it used the word “light” to refer to taste, not content. Byron found that the company designed the light cigarettes specifically to reduce the tar and nicotine measured by testing machine while allowing smokers to inhale the same levels they would get smoking regular cigarettes. He further opined that “Philip Morris’ motive was evil and the acts showed a reckless disregard for the consumers’ rights.”www.

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