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RICHMOND, Va. -- Philip Morris USA is continuing to take the legal road in its push to stop the sale of counterfeit cigarettes. In its latest move, the company filed suit in U.S. District Court against 34 New York City retailers for selling counterfeit versions of its Marlboro brand cigarettes. The suits come just weeks after it took similar legal action in Miami.
The latest lawsuits bring the number of New York retailers that PM USA -- an operating company of The Altria Group -- is suing for selling counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes to a total of 212. The legal challenges are part of PM USA's efforts to protect its trademarks, support law enforcement, promote the lawful sale of its brands and safeguard the integrity of the legitimate distribution system, according to the company.
The cigarette manufacturer said there could be more than three million packs of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes available annually in the New York City area, which has the highest cigarette tax rate in the country. The state and city tax lost on three million counterfeit packs exceeds $17.5 million, PM USA added.
The company also continues to support law enforcement criminal investigations involving contraband trade in cigarettes in New York and across the country. Most recently, the Queens County District Attorney's office arrested several counterfeit cigarette distributors, the company said.
"We applaud law enforcement authorities in New York for working diligently to prosecute cigarette traffickers. Selling counterfeit cigarettes is illegal, and we will continue to work to support law enforcement and take appropriate action ourselves to protect our brands, our consumers and the legitimate channels through which our products are distributed and sold," said Joe Murillo, vice president and associate general counsel, Altria Client Services, speaking on behalf of PM USA.
The two New York City lawsuits come just a few weeks after PM USA filed a civil suit against 17 retailers in the Miami area for similarly selling counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes. According to PM USA market monitoring, there could be more than one million packs of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes available annually in the Miami area, making it one of the top three areas in the United States for counterfeit cigarettes, according to the company.
"The sale of counterfeit cigarettes is a developing issue in south Florida, resulting in significant lost revenue for the state and Miami in a time when these funds are sorely needed," said Jose Luis Murillo, vice president and associate general counsel, Altria Client Services speaking on behalf of PM USA.