PM USA Sues NYC Retailers for Selling Counterfeit Cigarettes

Action follows recent arrest by Kings County district attorney

RICHMOND, Va. -- Philip Morris USA (PM USA) recently filed suit in U.S. District Court against 30 New York City retailers for selling counterfeit versions of the company's Marlboro brand cigarettes.

PM USA said that it continues to take action against counterfeit sellers to protect its valuable trademarks, support law enforcement and promote the lawful sale of its brands. With this new lawsuit, PM USA has sued a total of 243 New York retailers for selling counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes.

In addition to litigation, the company continues to support law enforcement criminal investigations involving illicit trade in cigarettes in New York and across the United States, it said. Recently, the Kings County District Attorney's office arrested a large-scale counterfeit cigarette distributor operating in the New York City area.

"Selling counterfeit cigarettes is illegal, and we will continue to take action ourselves to protect our brands, our consumers and the legitimate channels through which our products are distributed and sold. We do this in tandem with our work to support law enforcement," said Michael Thorne-Begland, director of brand integrity for Altria Client Services, speaking on behalf of PM USA. "[This] litigation is another component of our ongoing efforts to combat the illicit cigarette trade."

PM USA estimated that New York City is one of the top markets for counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes. New York City has the highest cigarette tax rate in the country and is very profitable for those involved in the illicit cigarette trade. Cigarette trafficking harms retailers, defrauds consumers and deprives taxpaying New Yorkers of legitimate revenue, said the company.

Counterfeit cigarettes are primarily manufactured in China in unregulated facilities and then smuggled into the United States. Those who profit from the illegal distribution and sale of counterfeit cigarettes are often involved in other organized crimes, such as drug, weapons and human trafficking, PM USA said. These criminals range from small-time smugglers to organized crime and organizations with ties to terrorism.

Counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes are also sold online through illicit websites, against which PM USA often conducts enforcement activities, including lawsuits.

Philip Morris USA is an operating company of Altria Group, Richmond, Va.