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Federal judge certifies class of 'light' cigarette consumers in tobacco suit

[JURIST] New York US District Judge Jack Weinstein Monday certified [memorandum and order, PDF] a class action lawsuit for "light" cigarette smokers against tobacco companies accused of leading smokers to believe that light cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes. The class action, which includes anyone who has ever bought light cigarettes since they hit the market in the 1970s, alleges that tobacco companies used deceptive advertising tactics in response to growing health concerns over the risks of smoking cigarettes. Plaintiffs attorney Michael Hausfeld argued [CBS report] that more than 90 percent of the smokers who purchased light cigarettes instead of regular cigarettes did so because of health concerns, according to expert witnesses. Attorneys for the tobacco companies countered that determining the reasons for every light cigarette consumer would be impossible and therefore makes class certification impractical. Weinstein rejected the tobacco company arguments, saying that class certification was necessary to "justify the expensive and time-consuming pretrial and trial procedures." A trial is scheduled for January, though representatives of both main defendants, Philip Morris USA Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. [corporate websites], have said they plan to appeal the class certification. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

The certification follows a similar Illinois lawsuit alleging that Philip Morris defrauded customers by leading them to believe that light cigarettes presented less risk than regular ones. The Illinois Supreme Court [official website] said in May that it would not reconsider [JURIST report] its decision [text; JURIST report] ruling invalid a $10.1 billion judgment against Philip Morris because the US Federal Trade Commission [official website] regulations gave tobacco companies authority to denominate products as "light" or "low tar and nicotine" and that under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, companies cannot be held liable for behavior that has been specifically permitted by a regulatory body.

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