Legal Issue

Whether the members of a class of plaintiffs in a tobacco class action can be certified under the Merchandising Practice Act for making false advertising claims about the company’s “light” cigarettes.

Overview

Dayna Craft, a Missouri smoker of Marlboro Lights, was the lead plaintiff in a class action under the Merchandising Practices Act that alleged the cigarette company made false claims about the health effects of light cigarettes. The plaintiffs claimed that Philip Morris falsely marketed “light” cigarettes as safer than full-flavored cigarettes, failed to instruct consumers on the correct way to smoke “light” cigarettes to receive lower amounts of tar and nicotine, and misrepresented the health problems associated with “light” cigarettes by failing to inform consumers that if smoked incorrectly, “light” cigarettes deliver amounts equal to or more than full-flavored cigarettes. 

The circuit court certified a class of plaintiffs, which was limited to those who had purchased light cigarettes in the five years before the date of the suit’s filing, Feb. 14, 2000.  Philip Morris appealed the class certification, arguing that the lead plaintiff was not an adequate representative of the class, that individual class members may have their own personal injury claims, which could create conflicts of interest, and that individual issues would outweigh common issues at trial.

On January 20, 2005, the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium filed an amicus brief in support of class certification in this case and arguing that Philip Morris’ interpretation would essentially eliminate the possibility of class actions under the Act, which would be an enormous advantage to tobacco companies.  We pointed out that class actions play an important role in allowing plaintiffs to bring cases to court that involve small money damages and would not be economically feasible to pursue individually. We argued that a class action is the only mechanism by which Plaintiffs would ever have the ability to present their case, much less obtain any relief. 

Outcome

On August 16, 2005, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, dismissed Philip Morris’ argument and affirmed the trial court’s judgment certifying the “light” cigarette class. The court noted that "when one or more of the central issues in the action are common to the class and can be said to predominate, the case may properly proceed as a class action, even though other important matters will have to be tried separately.”  The Merchandising Practices Act required only that the allegations be based on how the cigarettes were labeled and the condition of the product, not individual smoking behavior.

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