Tobacco Litigation: Light Cigarettes

Over the years, many lawsuits have involved tobacco companies. Most recently, light cigarettes are in the spotlight, under the tough scrutiny from consumers. From the consumers’ perspective, tobacco companies are engaging false advertising practices by marketing that these light cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes. Typically, these types of lawsuits fall under unfair business practice laws at the state level.

Light Cigarettes vs Regular Cigarettes

According to the tobacco companies that manufacture them, light cigarettes are lower in tar and nicotine as compared to regular cigarettes. Along with these lower levels of tar and nicotine, tobacco companies state that light cigarette filters are made with tiny pinhole vents that allow the cigarette smoke to dilute as it mixes with the air. Cigarette companies use “smoking machines” that measure the tar and nicotine levels of each cigarette brand, using this practice to prove that their light cigarettes have lower levels of tar and nicotine. But according to consumers, these numbers are not accurate.

Claims against Light Cigarette Manufacturers

In their claims, plaintiffs argue that the smoking machines used to measure tar and nicotine levels produce inaccurate numbers, that these numbers do not reflect realistic numbers as compared to human use. By referring to information from the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, plaintiffs argue that the manufacturer’s smoking machines produce inaccurate tar and nicotine levels because:

1. Light cigarette users may not be aware of the tiny pinhole vents in the filters and may unintentionally cover them up while they are smoking. Because of this, light cigarettes essentially turn into regular cigarettes. Plaintiffs argue that the pinholes are located only millimeters from where most individuals would place their lips and fingers while smoking, making the pinholes extremely easy to cover up.

2. Smoking machines take in less puffs of light cigarettes because most of these cigarettes have longer papers that cover the filter, so the machine stops. However, because there is still tobacco under this longer paper, consumers will still smoke the cigarette and therefore will ingest higher levels of nicotine and tar than the smoking machines.

3. Because smokers crave nicotine, unlike artificial smoking machines, consumers will tend to make up for the lower tar and nicotine by either taking longer puffs or by smoking more cigarettes per day.

Although each state handles tobacco litigation differently, the general idea is that manufacturers knowingly deceive the public by marketing that light cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes, when in reality, they are not.

Tobacco Companies and their Defense

When litigation comes, tobacco companies defend themselves by typically arguing one or both of these two points:

1. “Light” refers to lighter taste, not healthier. It is the consumers’ responsibilities to understand the difference.

2. Federal laws involving cigarette packaging supersede state laws regarding the same subject matter. Because of this, plaintiffs cannot cite state unfair business practice or consumer protection laws.

However, when lawsuits started to develop, the Federal Supreme Court argued against point #2, stating that claims based on common law duty (the duty of the manufacturer not to false advertise/represent its products) are not preempted.  The Federal Supreme Court ruled that claims against tobacco manufacturers are open to class action lawsuits.

Seek Legal Assistance

Litigation involving tobacco is often very complex and involves complicated legal theories. Because tobacco manufacturers typically use extremely aggressive defensive practices, lawsuits against them are typically difficult to win. Tobacco use has been proven over and over again that is has negative effects on heart health, so it is important to know your rights involving false advertising and product misrepresentation. If you believe that you or a loved one has a case against tobacco companies, contact Big Horn Law to discuss your claim.

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