Mo. judge declares mistrial in tobacco lawsuit

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 26, 2011, 2:30pm

ST. LOUIS (Legal Newsline) - A St. Louis jury on Tuesday failed to return a verdict in a class action case against Philip Morris USA over whether smokers were deceived into believing "light" and low-tar cigarettes reduced health hazards.

As a result, St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael David declared a mistrial in the $700 million lawsuit against the cigarette maker.

"After 11 years of pre-trial proceedings and a month and a half of testimony, today's mistrial shows that the plaintiffs failed to convince a jury of their claims," Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of Philip Morris, said in a statement Tuesday.

"We continue to believe that these claims are baseless and today's mistrial shows that we have powerful defenses in these 'lights' cases."

According to the lawsuit, originally filed in February 2000, plaintiffs alleged that Philip Morris violated Missouri's Merchandising Practices Act by using the terms "lights" and "lowered tar and nicotine" on packages of Marlboro Lights.

The plaintiffs sought recovery of a portion of the money paid by Missouri residents who purchased the cigarettes from 1995 to 2003.

Garnick said the company believes the class should never have been certified.

"All federal courts and seven state courts have refused to certify these types of cases as class actions recognizing that there are too many individual issues to make these a workable class action," he said.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs attorney Stephen Swedlow told The Associated Press he plans to take the case to trial again.

The Missouri case isn't the only one the cigarette maker is facing over the "light" labeling.

In Illinois last month, the state Supreme Court declined review of an appellate court's decision allowing plaintiffs to ask a lower court to re-open a case against Philip Morris.

According to a 70-page disposition, the Court denied the company's petition for leave to appeal.

Garnick said last month the high court's decision simply means that the plaintiffs are allowed to present their petition to the trial court.

He said Philip Morris looks forward to presenting its arguments about why state law makes it clear the plaintiffs cannot re-open the case.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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