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PORTLAND, Ore. - The estate of Michelle Schwarz, a Salem, Ore., woman who died from lung cancer in 1999, is seeking more than $300 million from Philip Morris Cos. Inc, claiming that the world's largest tobacco company fraudulently marketed low-tar Merits as having fewer health risks than regular filtered cigarettes.
Philip Morris attorneys deny that the company made any health claims about low-tar cigarettes, which are the choice of nearly 90 percent of the estimated 47 million adult smokers in the United States, the Associated Press reported. They also attack as biased a recent scientific report that concluded that smokers cancel out any possible benefit of low-tar or "light" cigarettes by puffing more frequently and inhaling more deeply.
The tobacco industry has an enviable litigation record, at one point winning 1,000 lawsuits in a row, the report said. Although the industry continues to win more cases than it loses, in the past few years it has suffered a handful of significant legal losses, including an $80.5-million jury verdict in 1999 in Portland and a more than $3-billion jury verdict last summer in Los Angeles.
Among other accusations, the suit charges Philip Morris with making false health claims about low-tar cigarettes, including that they delivered less nicotine and tar and, therefore, were safer and an alternative to quitting.
The modern version of low-tar or "light" cigarettes appeared on the market in the early 1970s after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) developed a method for measuring tar, the report said. The FTC measures tar by taking a certain number of puffs from a cigarette and measuring how much tar gets through the filter.
Generally, "light" cigarettes must measure between 5 and 15 milligrams of tar, as opposed to as much as 18 milligrams for a regular filtered cigarette.