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California Superior Court Judge Rules For Philip Morris USA In “Lights” Class Action

A California Superior Court judge today issued his final decision in favor of Philip Morris USA’s (PM USA) in a 16-year-old class-action “Lights” cigarette case ( Brown). The court rejected plaintiffs’ efforts to impose as much as a billion dollars in liability against PM USA and ruled that plaintiffs are not entitled to any relief.

“The plaintiffs failed to prove they suffered any loss by purchasing ‘Lights’ cigarettes,” said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of PM USA. “In fact, the court concluded that Marlboro Lights were worth what consumers paid for them,” Garnick added. “We have had substantial success in defending these cases on a variety of legal grounds.”

The plaintiffs claimed in this lawsuit, originally filed in June 1997, that PM USA violated California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law by using the terms “Lights” and “Lowered Tar and Nicotine” on cigarette packages. Plaintiffs sought to recover a portion of the money paid by California smokers who purchased Marlboro Lights between 1998 and 2001.

In his decision, Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager said that, “based the totality of the evidence including real world market data and the extensive absent class member testimony, this Court concludes that the restitution value is zero.”

In rejecting plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief, the court stated: “Plaintiffs failed to present any specific evidence entitling them to injunctive relief. To the contrary, the evidence established that the descriptors on which the Plaintiffs base their case have been removed and, because of changes in the law, these descriptors can never be used again. Since there is little likelihood that the conduct giving rise to this case will reoccur, the claim for injunctive relief is moot.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the use of “Lights” and other descriptors unless a manufacturer receives authorization to use the terms. The FDA began regulating tobacco products in 2009 with the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

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