ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis jury has sided with tobacco giant Philip Morris in a class-action lawsuit that sought about $1.5 billion.
The suit alleged that the company deceived smokers by claiming light cigarettes were safer than regular cigarettes. But the jury sided with the company after deliberating less than an hour Thursday following a month-long trial, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/1qbNG0N ).
The verdict marked the second time a St. Louis jury heard the case. A 2011 trial ended with the jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of the plaintiff. Nine votes are needed for a civil case verdict in Missouri.
The lawsuit, first filed in 2000, covered Missouri smokers who used Marlboro Lights from Feb. 14, 1995, through Dec. 31, 2003. Roughly 700 million packs of Marlboro Light cigarettes were sold in Missouri during that time period. The lead plaintiff was Jefferson County resident Deborah Larsen, who smoked a pack-and-a-half of Marlboro Lights a day from 1979 until quitting in 2002.
The suit alleged that light cigarette packages promised lower tar and nicotine but were made from the same tobacco as regular cigarettes. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that they were actually more dangerous than regular cigarettes since smoker might inhale longer and deeper.
"They knew it was wrong ... they knew they were deceiving people," plaintiff's attorney Mark Bronson said during closing arguments.
Philip Morris attorneys argued that the light cigarettes contain less tobacco than Marlboro Reds, more ventilation and a longer filter.
Philip Morris attorney Beth Wilkinson said the company took the label of "lower tar and nicotine" off packages in 2003, and eventually stopped using the term "lights" as well.
"Make no mistake, this case is only about money," she said in closing arguments.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com