Tuesday, June 27, 2006

No Suit over Light Smokes: Marketing Doesn't Merit Class Action, Ohio Supreme Court Rules

Two Ohio smokers cannot bring a class-action lawsuit against Philip Morris USA Inc. over the way the tobacco giant marketed "light" cigarettes, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in mid-June. The smokers had argued that the cigarette maker knew the product it marketed as having less tar and nicotine are as dangerous as regular cigarettes.

In a divided decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Philip Morris would have had to act in a way "previously declared to be deceptive" under Ohio law when advertising its light cigarettes. Moreover, the smokers failed to demonstrate the company had. Lobbyists for manufacturers and other Ohio businesses had fought a lower court’s decision allowing a class-action suit, which they saw as possibly opening business sectors other than tobacco to future litigation. The majority of justices ruled that under Ohio's consumer protection statutes, it is unclear whether Philip Morris acted to "deliberately deceive consumers into believing that Marlboro Lights and Virginia Slims Lights are safer or healthier than other cigarettes." The minority strongly disagreed with the majority's "unconscionably narrow reading" of Ohio law, stating that the decision "immunized companies from class action lawsuits by the people they deceive."

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