Jessica Karmasek Oct. 20, 2015, 1:59pm


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - The trial in a class action lawsuit filed nearly 20 years ago over claims that cigarette maker Philip Morris USA misled the public into thinking that its product, Marlboro Lights, would have lower levels of tar and nicotine began this week.

According to Courtroom View Network, the trial in the long-running class action Lori Aspinall, et al. v. Philip Morris USA, et al., began Monday.

To watch the proceedings, click here.

The class action was originally filed in 1998 on behalf of nearly 200,000 Massachusetts smokers who bought Marlboro Light cigarettes starting in 1994. The plaintiff class is seeking more than $600 million from Altria Group Inc. subsidiary Philip Morris.

Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Edward Leibensperger is hearing the case without a jury.

The class contends Philip Morris knew its Marlboro Lights product did not have lower levels of tar and nicotine and intentionally designed it so that cigarette smokers receive as much, or more, tar and nicotine than if they smoked regular or other “full-flavored” Marlboro cigarettes.

In fact, lead plaintiff Lori Aspinall and fellow class members allege Philip Morris designed its Marlboro Lights to produce Federal Trade Commission smoking machine test results that allow the tobacco company to promote the cigarettes as “lights.”

In particular, the class alleges the company modified the design of the cigarettes to include the “strategic placement” of microscopic ventilation holes in or around the cigarette filters.

The plaintiffs argue Philip Morris intended to create an impression in the minds of customers that the cigarettes were “healthier” than regular cigarettes, such as its Marlboro Reds, all the while fully aware that Marlboro Lights would continue to deliver addictive levels of tar and nicotine.

Aspinall’s attorney, Thomas Urmy of Shapiro Haber & Urmy LLP, said during opening statements that the evidence would prove the company engaged in a “deliberate and cynical deception of consumers for over 30 years.”

According to a CVN webcast of Monday’s proceedings, Urmy argued Philip Morris should pay $512 million if Marlboro Lights are proven to be as harmful as Marlboro Reds, and $100 million more -- $609 million -- if it is determined they are more harmful.

Attorneys for Philip Morris, in response, pointed to studies performed by the company and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that prove Marlboro Lights contain less tar and nicotine than Marlboro Reds.

Gregory Stone of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP also argued the plaintiff class suffered no actual injuries, according to the CVN webcast.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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