Philip Morris cigarette trial starts in St. Louis Circuit Court

Philip Morris perpetrated a 40-year fraud on Missouri consumers by promising on each pack of Marlboro Lights that the cigarettes delivered lower amounts of tar and nicotine, class action lawyer Stephen Swedlow argued to a jury this morning in St. Louis Circuit Court.

Swedlow, of Korein Tillery in Chicago, represents Deborah Larsen and a class of Missouri smokers who bought Marlboro Lights in the state between Feb. 14, 1995, and Dec. 31, 2003. The lawsuit alleges violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

A pack of Marlboro Lights cigarettes

A pack of Marlboro Lights cigarettes

Philip Morris promised this product to be ‘lower tar and nicotine’ when they knew it wasn’t,” he told the 20 jurors. The company shouldn’t be allowed to profit on its lies, the lawyer argued.

“You don’t get to sell low-fat yogurt that’s not low-fat. You don’t get to sell low-fat ice cream that’s not low-fat. You don’t get to sell diet products that are not diet,” he said.

The cigarette-maker knew as far back as 1967 that measuring the amount of tar and nicotine in cigarettes by machine resulted in data that seemed to show smokers would take in less tar and nicotine in so-called “light” cigarettes, Swedlow said. Studies Philip Morris conducted in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s showed smokers take in the same amount of tar and nicotine in light cigarettes as in regular cigarettes, he said.

Consumers placed a value on the health reassurance posted on packs Marlboro Lights, and Swedlow suggested the amount was 98 cents a pack, or almost $700,000 total. During the eight-year class period, Philip Morris sold 700,000 packs of Marlboro Lights in Missouri, he said.

That’s because “the promise was worth something,” Swedlow said.

Philip Morris will begin its opening statement at 1:30 p.m. today. The trial is expected to last until before Thanksgiving.


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