The tobacco industry has had a tough time winning court cases in Minnesota in recent years. It won one today, however, when the Minnesota Supreme Court killed an 11-year-old lawsuit against Philip Morris that claimed the company fraudulently marketed Marlboro Lights as a safer cigarette.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals had resurrected the case in late 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008 cleared the way for class action suits against cigarette companies that manufacture “light” cigarettes. The Appeals Court said Philip Morris could be sued for false advertising, consumer fraud, and deceptive trade practices under Minnesota consumer-protection statutes.”
But today, the Minnesota Supreme Court said the suit, filed by a private party, can’t proceed because the 1998 tobacco trial settlement, negotiated between then Attorney General “Skip” Humphrey’s office and Philip Morris, precludes it
The group filing the suit claimed the tobacco company marketed the Marlboro Lights as safer than a typical cigarette. Memos uncovered during the Minnesota tobacco trial revealed the company knew the claim to be false. The memos acknowledged that consumers who smoked “low tar” or “light” cigarettes, took longer “drags” on them, negating any benefit.
In a dissent to today’s ruling, Justice Alan Page argued the case should proceed because the false and deceptive advertising claims occurred after the 1998 settlement agreement.
Similar lawsuits were filed in several other states.
“The Minnesota Supreme Court now joins with 14 courts in 15 ‘lights’ cases which have rejected these claims on a variety of legal and factual grounds, Murray Garnick, Altria (Philip Morris’ parent company) senior vice president, said in a statement.