Smokers in 11 States File Class-Action Suits Against Three Tobacco Companies Over ‘Light’ Labels
A number of smokers in 11 states have filed class-action lawsuits seeking billions of dollars from tobacco companies for allegedly labelling cigarettes with terms such as "light" to mislead smokers into "believing those brands are safer," the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports (Zuckerbrod, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 3/26). An Oregon jury last week ordered Philip Morris Cos. to pay about $150 million in damages in the case of a woman who died of lung cancer after she smoked low-tar cigarettes (California Healthline, 3/25). The class-action lawsuits, filed against the nation's three largest tobacco companies -- Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Brown & Williamson -- claim that the companies violated consumer protection laws. However, the tobacco companies argue that they use terms such as "full-flavor," "lights" and "ultra lights" to describe the "strength of taste and amount of tar and nicotine" contained in a cigarette, not to "imply that any cigarette brand style or any category of cigarettes is safer than any other," R.J. Reynolds spokesperson Seth Moskowitz said. The AP/Mercury News reports that the term "light" often describes cigarettes with less than 15 milligrams of tar, which "helps deliver nicotine to smokers." A study conducted by the National Cancer Institute last year found that light cigarettes offer the same risks of lung cancer as regular cigarettes "because people who smoked lights tend to inhale more deeply and take more puffs to get the nicotine they need." The study also found that although light cigarettes test lower for levels of tar and nicotine on government-approved machines as a result of ventilation holes in the filters, the cigarettes can offer "little or no benefit" to smokers, who often cover the holes with their fingers or lips (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 3/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.