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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 March, 2003, 16:38 GMT
Tobacco giant 'to pay $10bn'
Smoker
Smoking-related illnesses claim many lives every year
The United States tobacco company Philip Morris has been ordered to pay $10.1bn in damages for deceiving smokers over "light" cigarettes.

An Illinois court ruled that the company had deceived them into thinking the brand posed fewer health risks than ordinary ones.

The company says it will appeal against the decision.

"Judge Byron has awarded an outrageous amount of money to a group of smokers who claim no injury, smoked cigarettes that were always labelled with government health warnings," Philip Morris vice-president William Ohlemeyer told Reuters news agency.

The $10.1bn was less than half of what the plaintiffs had asked for.

I think that the judge was concerned that a substantially larger award might put them out of business
Stephen Tillery
"I think that the judge was concerned that a substantially larger award might put them out of business," lawyer for the plaintiffs Stephen Tillery said.

Judge Nicholas Byron said the damages awarded were appropriate "because Philip Morris' motive was evil and the acts showed a reckless disregard for the consumers' rights".

The Miles v Philip Morris is the first class-action to reach trial over the use of the word "light".

The plaintiffs argued they bought the cigarettes believing they posed fewer health risks than regular cigarettes.

"The court finds that the term 'lights' not only conveyed a message of reduced harm and safety, but also conveyed to class members that the "lights" cigarette product was lower in tar and nicotine," added Judge Byron.

More trials

Unlike other trials centred on the smoking issue, the plaintiffs did not seek compensation for medical bills or other health-related concerns.

Instead, they wanted repayment of the money they spent on the cigarettes.

Similar trials are due to take place.

An Illinois court will reportedly hear a case against RJ Reynolds in October 2003 and also a trial against Brown & Williamson, which is part of British American Tobacco Plc, is set for March 2004.

Tobacco companies are seeking to set a limit on damages fearing they could go out of business.


SEE ALSO:
Tobacco firm 'must pay' $1bn fine
13 Jan 03  |  Business


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