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Big Tobacco Gets a Big Fat Gift for Christmas

By Roland Lara on Dec 16, 2005 12:54PM

2005_12_cigarette.jpgWe just can’t get enough of our cigarette stories, eh? We get our half-assed smoking ban. We get the mayor’s cigarette tax hike. And now we get the Illinois Supreme Court overturning a verdict that was supposed to cost Philip Morris $10 billion.

Yes. Billion. With a “b,” as in “buttload of cash.”

Here’s the low-down: a plaintiff brought a class action against the defendant, Philip Morris. And before we go any further, Philip Morris” used to be called Philip Morris, Inc.” but is now Philip Morris USA, Inc.” Therefore, in the text of the Illinois Supreme Court opinion, the justices don’t call Philip Morris Philip Morris,” they call it “PMUSA.”

Maybe it’s a rebranding, like with J-Lo … but for evil. (Allegedly evil. Don’t sue us.) Or maybe it’s more like The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. It’s the Soulless Corporate Manslaughterers Formerly Known as Philip Morris. (Allegedly guilty of hundreds of thousands of negligent homicides. Still totally soulless, though. Don’t’ sue us.)

And back to the case...

The original lawsuit alleged that Philip Morris used deceptive marketing practices to trick smokers into thinking “light” cigarettes were less harmful than regular ones. And it was filed in Madison County, which is in downstate Illinois, and which has become legendary/infamous for what has been described as its pro-plaintiff stance.

Yeah. “Pro-plaintiff stance.” Tort-reform advocates have said that Madison County attracted class-action lawyers from all over because it’s biased in favor of plaintiffs. Business leaders who’ve been whacked with huge-ass verdicts have described Madison County as a “judicial hell-hole.”

Chicagoist doesn’t know about all that with Madison County, but if were going to talk about judicial hell-holes, we have to talk about the Daley Center. Even gone to traffic court there? It’s a fucking nightmare. It’s like going to the bus station, just not as clean. And that’s just the lawyers. Thank you! Good night! Try the veal!

Again, back to the case:

Turns out the class action was brought under Illinois state law, which has its own standards for not lying in advertising. But federal law specifically permits tobacco companies to call cigarettes “light” and “low tar.” If federal law specifically lets you do it, then how can it be “deceptive” under state law?

(The answer’s not as easy as either side might think, and even though Chicagoist did actually go to law school, we’re not going to write a law review article here, so we’ll just go for the low-hanging fruit.)

In this year-end time of Christmakwanzahannumas, doesn’t it warm the cockles that poor, battered, pitiable Philip Morris a/k/a P-Mo gets to keep the $10 billion? It’s staving off disaster. Otherwise they have to hold a bake sale to buy an, um, er, ash tray. And those dopes that thought that when Tobacco said “light” thought it might be better for them? Ha! Suckers! They totally deserve an extra helping of cancer for Christmas dinner this year.