Price ‘Light’ Case Revisited

Ill. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments for second time in suit against tobacco company

Philip Morris USA cigarettes tobacco (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Gas Stations)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- For the second time, the Illinois State Supreme Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit against tobacco company Philip Morris USA, reported WQAD.

The litigation started when Sharon Price and other plaintiffs claimed the tobacco giant fraudulently used terms such as “light” and “low tar” in cigarette ads, the report said.

They prevailed, winning a $10.1 billion judgment in March 2003, but the Illinois Supreme Court reversed that ruling by saying “light” and “low tar” terms were allowed under federal regulations, according to appellate court documents from April 2014. The case went back to the trial court with an order to dismiss the complaint.

What the plaintiffs did not know then was that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had permitted certain other tobacco manufacturers to use the terms with certain limitations. The court found that allowing the use of those terms under specific circumstances was not the same as taking regulatory action that actually approved or required using those terms. Later cases in 2008 confirmed the FTC “disavows any policy authorizing the use of ‘light’ and ‘low tar’ descriptors.”

So, the trial court again found in favor of the plaintiffs, but also said it thought the Supreme Court would still find in favor of Philip Morris in terms of any damages award, said the report.

The appellate court said the trial court couldn’t really predict how the Supreme Court would have ruled, and essentially reinstated the original $10.1-billion verdict.

The case, Price v. Philip Morris, Inc., goes back to the Illinois Supreme Court for a second time when oral arguments are heard May 19, 2015.