Feb. 3 2005
Washington, DC — Today, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee diminished the legal rights of all Americans by passing so-called “Class Action Fairness" legislation. This bill will deprive citizens of a state of the right to have their cases heard in their own courts, further overburden the federal courts and make it more difficult for tobacco companies to be held accountable for years of misleading Americans about the dangers of tobacco.
State courts are as capable of handling class actions as federal courts, and class action lawsuits have been an important tool in efforts to hold the tobacco industry accountable. The decision in the Miles case against Philip Morris in Illinois demonstrates that class action cases continue to be an effective mechanism for holding accountable an industry that has killed and injured millions and engaged in widespread wrongdoing.
The Miles case was filed against Philip Morris for its deceptive marketing of light cigarettes, one of the most harmful consumer frauds of our time that took a tremendous toll in health, lives and money. As documented in a November 2001 report by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the tobacco companies including Philip Morris knew from its own research that light cigarettes were no safer than regular brands, but for decades has deceptively marketed these cigarettes as reducing smokers’ health risks. The NCI also found that tobacco companies intentionally manipulated the design of their light cigarettes to produce less tar when tested by government testing machines, but not when smoked by actual smokers who changed their smoking habits to maintain nicotine levels. Many smokers switched to these brands in a false belief they were reducing their health risk. Miles and similar cases are the only way to hold Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies accountable for this irresponsible, harmful conduct, which continues even today.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was wrong to pass legislation denying citizens of a state the ability to seek justice from the tobacco companies under their own state laws and in their own state courts. The tobacco industry does not need more protection against citizen suits. If anything, citizens need more protection against tobacco industry wrongdoing.