- By DAVID KESMODEL Feb 16
Philip Morris USA, highlighting a new front in its long-running campaign against counterfeit cigarettes, said it has sued seven China-based Internet retailers for allegedly selling fake Marlboros to California consumers.
The Altria Group Inc. unit, which is the largest U.S. cigarette manufacturer by revenue, said Wednesday that sales of phony Marlboro cigarettes to American smokers through China-based websites is an emerging problem. It said its lawsuit filed this week in a California federal court is the first of its kind by a U.S. company.
The tobacco giant also on Monday sued eight bricks-and-mortar retailers in the Los Angeles area that it says recently sold counterfeit versions of Marlboro, the top-selling cigarette label in the U.S.
The Richmond, Va., company said the legal actions followed an investigation into counterfeit-cigarette sales in the Los Angeles area that involved the Los Angeles County sheriff’s office and other law-enforcement agencies. The investigation resulted in 10 arrests and the seizure of more than 9,200 packs of counterfeit Marlboros.
Philip Morris USA, which has sued a number of retailers in New York for hawking fake Marlboros, said it believes counterfeit-cigarette traffickers have established a foothold in Los Angeles.
“Selling counterfeit cigarettes is illegal, and we will continue to evolve our approach to take appropriate action to protect our brands,” Joe Murillo, an associate general counsel for Altria, said in a prepared statement.
The company has sued more than 2,800 retailers in California since 2002 for allegedly peddling counterfeit versions of its brands.
Tobacco companies say the counterfeiting of cigarettes, often connected with organized crime syndicates, is so widespread around the world that it costs the industry billions of dollars in lost sales each year.
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