Judge denies class action in cigarette lawsuits

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A federal judge in Maine yesterday denied class-action status to four lawsuits accusing Philip Morris USA of misleading smokers about the health risks of light cigarettes.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. concerns lawsuits that were filed in Illinois, Maine, California and Washington, D.C., alleging that Henrico County-based Philip Morris USA marketed light cigarettes as healthier than regular cigarettes in violation of various consumer-protection and false-advertising laws.

The lawsuits are among 15 cases that were consolidated for pre-trial proceedings in federal court. In his ruling, Woodcock said the plaintiffs had not met the requirements for class-action status.

"While the judge has yet to rule on the remaining cases in the multidistrict litigation, we believe this decision should serve as a persuasive authority in denying class certification in those and other similar cases as well," said Murray Garnick, senior vice president and associate general counsel for Philip Morris USA parent company Altria Group Inc.

The federal court ruling in Maine yesterday was in contrast to a decision in a separate lawsuit in New Hampshire state court Monday.

In that case, a superior court judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit against Philip Morris USA over its marketing of light cigarettes. A spokesman for Philip Morris USA said the company will appeal that decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

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