Altria, Philip Morris Face Trial Over Ads Touting “Light” Cigarettes

A trial underway in California accuses Philip Morris U.S.A., a unit of the Altria Group Inc., of falsely marketing its so-called “light” cigarettes as being a healthier option over traditional cigarettes.

The lawsuit, which seeks $543.6 million in restitution to California smokers for money spent on cigarettes, was brought as a class action and is being heard in San Diego state court. Dozens of internal Philip Morris documents are expected to be presented that reveal that high-level executives knew that Marlboro Lights were as addictive and dangerous to smokers as Marlboro Reds, yet continued marketing the lighter versions as a healthy alternative, said Bloomberg News.

The lawsuit was filed in 1997 and accuses Philip Morris and other tobacco companies of making misleading statements concerning the health risks and addictive nature of smoking, said Bloomberg News. Richmond, Virginia-based Philip Morris U.S.A., is the case’s only remaining defendant. The only claim remaining is that the cigarette giant made false statements concerning light cigarettes. California Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager is presiding over the trial.

According to plaintiffs’ allegations, Philip Morris deceptively marketed and labeled cigarettes as “light” and “low tar” because that would lead consumers to believe that these cigarettes were less dangerous than their full-flavored counterparts, according to a court filing by Philip Morris dated April 19, said Bloomberg News.

Video depositions and written reports from high-level executives at Philip Morris were shown in court that revealed that these executives knew that even if smokers switched from full-flavored to low-tar or low–nicotine cigarettes, research proved that the smokers would compensate for the lower levels by smoking more—inhaling more deeply or smoking more cigarettes—to meet their body’s so-called “daily nicotine quota,” said Bloomberg News.

Philip Morris maintains that the “light” labeling was not misleading and that it never claimed that its lighter cigarettes were healthier than its full-flavored versions, according to court documents, said Bloomberg News. Philip Morris also argues that no evidence exists that all of the smokers for whom restitution is being sought switched to light cigarettes believing that they were healthier. The case involves California smokers of Philip Morris “light” cigarettes from June 10, 1993, through April 23, 2001.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in America, with the Toxic Substance linked to some 443,000 deaths and $100 billion spent in healthcare costs annually. Second-hand smoke has been linked to a variety of health issues; contains over 4,000 substances, including over 50 known or suspected carcinogens; and is linked to many diseases in adults and children, such as sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, asthma, coronary heart disease, lung and sinus cancers, sinus problems, mental problems, and hearing loss. Smoking has also recently been linked to colorectal cancer, creating damage in the body just minutes after inhaling for the first time, increasing risks for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and significantly increasing arterial stiffness in people as young as 18 to 30.

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