CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- The New Hampshire Supreme Court Tuesday reversed a class-action certification in a lawsuit filed by consumers who claim tobacco giant Philip Morris violated the state's Consumer Protection Act by falsely labeling a brand of cigarettes as "Marlboro Lights."
The Supreme Court says there were ample academic studies and news reports suggesting that smokers of light cigarettes inhaled the same amount of tar and nicotine as smokers of other cigarettes.
The lawsuit was filed 10 years ago by longtime Marlboro Lights smoker Karen Lawrence, but was on hold for several years awaiting U.S. Supreme Court rulings on a variety of related topics.
A superior court judge certified it as a class-action suit in 2010 and the Supreme Court ruling addresses only whether that certification was in error. The case has yet to go to trial.
Tuesday's ruling cites studies dating to 1976 that indicate smokers of light cigarettes compensated by smoking more or inhaling deeper. The justices ruled unanimously that plaintiffs would have to be polled individually about the information they were exposed to and their individual smoking habits — making the case inappropriate for a class action.
Attorney Chuck Douglas, who represents Lawrence, said he and other lawyers representing her were discussing whether they would proceed with her case. He said Lawrence survived lung cancer, but stressed the case wasn't about cancer but about advertising statements he says violate the state's Consumer Protection Act.
"I wish the case had been able to go forward because these folks are entitled to compensation for the representations that were false," said Douglas.
Philip Morris spokesman Murray Garnick said the ruling joins those of 15 other courts that have rejected the cases on a variety of legal grounds.
"The court recognized correctly that there are too many individual issues for this case to be treated as a class action," Garnick said.
- Karen Lawrence