By John O’Brien
SYRACUSE, NY – A cigarette maker got a court order in Syracuse this week to stop a store in Northern New York from selling large amounts of counterfeit Marlboros.
Philip Morris USA Inc. sued Big Boy’s Gas & Tobacco and its owner, Alex Garrow III, claiming he sold counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes to the company’s undercover buyers seven times over the past two months, for a total of 14 cartons.
U.S. District Judge Glenn Suddaby issued an order Monday for the store in Hogansburg, on or near the Akwesasne Mohawk Indian Reservation, to stop selling the fake smokes.
In addition to those sales, the company’s undercover buyers observed large amounts of what appeared to be counterfeit Marlboros in Big Boy’s storeroom, the lawsuit said.
The store’s employees offered more than once to sell the undercover buyers discounted prices on bulk orders of 100 or more cartons, which they said Garrow could get on a day’s notice, the lawsuit said.
Philip Morris claims the store infringed on its trademark, and that the fake Marlboros could be more hazardous than the real ones.
Makers of counterfeit cigarettes don’t have to submit ingredient information to the Food and Drug Administration and don’t have to report “potentially harmful constituents in their tobacco or smoke” to government regulators, the lawsuit said.
Philip Morris officials discovered the counterfeits the way they usually do — when consumers call to complain that the cigarettes don’t taste right, said David Sutton, a spokesman for Altria Group Inc., the parent company of Philip Morris USA.
Counterfeit cigarettes are often made in China, Sutton said. The counterfeiters use sophisticated equipment to make the packages look identical to the real ones, he said.
Philip Morris filed 112 lawsuits across the country from 2000 to 2012 to stop counterfeiters, Sutton said. Many counterfeiters choose New York state because of its high excise tax on cigarettes, he said.
It’s the second time in two years that Philip Morris had to ask a federal judge to step in and stop a store in Northern New York from selling fake Marlboros. The company sued Truck Stop #9 on the Akwesasne reservation last year over the sales.
In that case, a judge ordered the sales to stop and issued an order that any more would result in escalating fines, starting at $500 for the first sale and up to $2 million if the store is caught selling 100 or more cartons of counterfeits.