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Court decertifies class-action suit against Philip Morris

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A state Appeals Court decertified a class-action lawsuit against Philip Morris USA Inc. over light cigarettes, ruling Wednesday that the potential plaintiffs did not have enough in common to proceed.

The 4th District Court of Appeals said in an opinion that Philip Morris was correct in arguing that there may be too many differences among plaintiffs to certify the lawsuit as class-action. A lower court had certified the case as class action because the smokers involved used light cigarettes.

The appeal concerned a lawsuit filed by John Hines and Delores Howell that alleged Philip Morris deceived consumers and violated Florida law by labeling its Marlboro Lights and Ultra Lights cigarettes as having less tar and nicotine, even though Philip Morris allegedly used an unreliable method to measure the content of those additives.

They asked for class-action status among all current and former smokers of those brands in Florida from 1971 to the present. A trial court agreed, but on "unsuitable" grounds, the Appeals Court ruled Wednesday.

"This decision in the Hines case is consistent with those of many other state and federal courts over the past several years that have decided tobacco cases simply involve too many individual issues to be tried as class actions," said William S. Ohlemeyer, a vice president for Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris, the top US cigarette maker.

Stephen Sheller, a lawyer for plaintiffs John Hines and Delores Howell, called the ruling "disturbing." He said the ruling discusses light cigarettes but failed to specifically consider Marlboro Lights.

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