Menthol Suit Dismissed

A federal appeals court threw out claims against Philip Morris Cos. Inc. and other tobacco companies that they intentionally marketed less healthy menthol cigarettes to African-Americans.

The decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's ruling that a group of black smokers didn't show there was a disparity between the products sold to African-American smokers and those sold to white smokers, according to the Associated Press.

The plaintiffs claimed civil rights violations because the advertisements for less healthy menthols were targeted toward black smokers. The suit had sought class-action status to represent all living black Americans who have purchased or consumed menthol cigarettes since 1954.

The lower court "correctly held that black smokers' claims of racially targeted advertising and marketing of menthol products were inadequate to state a cause of action," U.S. Circuit Judge Jane Roth wrote for the Philadelphia-based appeals court.

Other defendants in the case included Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group Inc. and Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco Co.. Also sued were three non-profit industry groups -- the Tobacco Institute, the Smokeless Tobacco Council and the Council for Tobacco Research USA -- and public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, a unit of WPP Group Plc.

The suit, filed in 1998, also charged that tobacco companies took part in a conspiracy to mislead black Americans about the safety of menthol cigarettes.

While blacks account for 10.3 percent of the U.S. population, as many as two-thirds of U.S. menthol smokers are black, according to the suit, which claimed the tobacco companies created this preference among blacks. The suit cited R.J. Reynolds' "Uptown" brand as one example of the menthol cigarettes designed to appeal to black smokers. The brand was withdrawn in 1990 after negative publicity over its marketing, the report said.
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