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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Philip Morris USA told the Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday that federal oversight of the tobacco industry bars Illinois consumers from bringing state fraud claims against the company for allegedly misleading them about the safety of "light" cigarettes, reported the Chicago Tribune.
In its challenge of a $10.1 billion class-action fraud ruling in March, the unit of Altria Group Inc., said a state judge ignored federal regulations in ruling that smokers were deceived by the terms "lights" and "lowered tar and nicotine" on cigarette packages.
"Where there is a deliberate policy of the federal government, individual states cannot be allowed to obstruct that policy," said James Thompson, attorney for Philip Morris and former governor of Illinois. "Congress mandated what warning should go on the package and in advertising."
Joseph Power Jr., an attorney for the class of 1.1 million smokers, countered that state law does not conflict with regulations of the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees tobacco advertising.
Philip Morris also argued that the case never should have been declared a class action, and that customers didn't suffer any economic damage from choosing light cigarettes over regular cigarettes.
A decision is not expected for several months.
The case has drawn widespread attention because of the possible financial harm it could cause Altria and for its impact on public health. Philip Morris has removed the "lowered tar and nicotine" description from its packages of light cigarettes.
Although similar cases are pending in other state courts, the Illinois suit remains the only "light" case to go to trial, providing a road map to other attorneys on how to win such suits if the judgment is upheld.
In related news, scientists said on Thursday that Philip Morris was involved in research into the health effects of smoking 30 years ago but did not reveal data on the dangers of passive smoking, reported Reuters.
Although the tobacco industry claimed for many years that it was not aware of the toxic effects of cigarettes, the researchers said material from internal industry documents revealed Philip Morris used a German research facility to study the health impact of smoking from the early 1970s.
But Altria Group Inc. said the allegations in the journal were not new and had been made in many of the product-liability lawsuits filed against Philip Morris.