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NEW YORK -- In an effort to halt the unauthorized sales of its tobacco brands over the Internet, Philip Morris U.S.A. has filed eight lawsuits in federal court against companies and individuals it claims are illegally profiting sales of the company's tobacco brands.
The lawsuits aim to stop the defendants' illegal use of Philip Morris U.S.A.'s trademarks, including category leader Marlboro, and to stop the importation of the company's cigarettes in violation of federal law.
"Philip Morris U.S.A. is committed to pursuing all available options to ensure that its products are sold in strict compliance with the law," said Jack Holleran, vice president of brand integrity for Philip Morris U.S.A. "We are also committed to taking appropriate action to protect our trademarks to ensure that adult smokers continue to receive the consistent high quality products they have come to expect from our brands."
The lawsuits allege that the defendants violated trademark and unfair competition laws by misusing Philip Morris U.S.A.'s trademarks in an effort to attract Internet users to their Web sites.
"Philip Morris U.S.A.'s trademarks were wrongfully used in Internet addresses, company names and promotional materials in violation of federal and state laws," the company said in a statement. In addition, the suits allege that Web sites are selling cigarettes "that have been imported in violation of the Imported Cigarette Compliance Act of 2000. In some instances, the defendants have made false statements about the legality of these sales."
Philip Morris also takes issue with the way cigarettes are being sold over the Internet. The tobacco company has worked diligently with retailers over the years to develop training tools to help keep tobacco away from minors.
The suits allege many Internet-based cigarette vendors do not have appropriate mechanisms to verify the age of purchasers and "therefore could run counter to efforts by public health groups, elected officials and Philip Morris U.S.A. to prevent youth access to cigarettes. Moreover, many Internet-based cigarette vendors also have established and continue to operate Web sites that sell cigarettes without complying with the laws regarding excise tax payments, while claiming that their products are tax-exempt," the company said.
Philip Morris, which works with law enforcement officials to catch illegal Internet peddlers, said it would continue its investigation of cigarette sales on the Internet and expects to file additional lawsuits in the coming weeks.
The suits, filed in California and New York, implicate the following companies: