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$45M Settlement Proposed in Arkansas Tobacco Lawsuit

Attorneys for cigarette smokers and for tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris USA have agreed to a $45 million settlement of a lawsuit over the marketing of Marlboro Lights in Arkansas.

The settlement was submitted to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on July 29, three days before the start of an estimated six-week trial in a class-action lawsuit, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The lawsuit alleged that Philip Morris violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act in its marketing of Lights and Ultralights, which are now sold as the Silver and Gold.

The estimated amount of the payments to individual smokers was not clear. Plaintiff’s attorney Tom Thrash said there could be more than 1 million people eligible. The funds also will be used to pay attorney fees, which are to be decided by the judge.

Philip Morris spokesman Brian May said the company is glad to resolve the now 13-year-old case.

“After over a decade of litigation in this case, we’re pleased to put it behind us and believe the agreement is in the best interest of the company,” he said.

Lawyers now will begin establishing a process for how potential claimants can apply for payments, how their claims of tobacco use will be validated and the time frame for paying out the money.

Thrash said he did not expect any payments to be made until early next year.

Those eligible for payments are smokers who bought the Lights brands in Arkansas between Nov. 1, 1971, when the Lights brand was introduced, and May 29, 2003, the effective date of the lawsuit.

Smokers who filed the lawsuit said the company, a subsidiary of Virginia-based Altria Group, misled consumers about the safety of the cigarettes by leading smokers to believe the brands had lower levels of tar and nicotine.

Company officials said Lights did what they were advertised to do — deliver less tar and nicotine — if they were smoked correctly. The Lights filters were specially ventilated to reduce tar and nicotine, but smokers could get more by inhaling more deeply or more often, the company stated.

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