Judge OKs Class-Action Suit by 'Light' Smokers

A federal court ruling has set the stage for another huge lawsuit against the tobacco industry, as a judge in New York allows a class-action suit to go forward against the makers of so-called "light" cigarettes.

The plaintiffs' attorneys claim tobacco companies deceived smokers by claiming lights were less dangerous than regular cigarettes.

The massive class-action lawsuit represents tens of millions of people, anyone who ever smoked cigarettes like Marlboro Lights or Camel Ultra Lights, since the products were put on the market more than 30 years ago.

The combined suit seeks as much as $200 billion, alleging that smokers were duped into thinking low-tar cigarettes posed less risk to their health.

During a hearing on the case earlier this month, Judge Jack Weinstein expressed skepticism with parts of the plaintiff's case. Still, Weinstein, a veteran of the federal bench, ruled the plaintiffs are entitled to present their arguments to a jury.

Both R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris USA say they will appeal the judge's decision to allow the case to proceed.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, light cigarettes are likely to become a thing of the past. In a separate ruling this summer, a different federal judge banned the major tobacco companies from selling light, mild, and low tar products in the United States, agreeing that smokers have been deceived about the dangers.

Unless that decision is overturned on appeal, the products will have to take on new names or be removed from the market entirely on January 1, 2007.

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