Watson v. Philip Morris

The case is a class action against Philip Morris challenging the design, marketing, and advertising of two brands of Philip Morris cigarettes.  Plaintiffs alleged that the marketing of Cambridge Lights and Marlboro Lights was deceptive.  The case was based on these brands' use of the descriptors "light and "lowered tar," which were deceptive or misleading because they failed to inform the smoker that the actual amounts of tar and nicotine were much higher than the results of the then-used Cambridge Filter Method employed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  This test used a mechanical smoking machine to read the amounts of tar and nicotine contained in a cigarette, but it also failed to take into account other factors like ventilation holes, channels, or individual smoking habits that would affect the actual amounts of these substances ingested by the smoker. 

The case had originally been filed in Arkansas state court, but then removed to federal court.  Watson and Lawson, as class representatives, demanded the case be removed to state court, but the District Court rejected their motion.  The class representatives filed the interlocutory appeal at issue. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision to allow removal of the case to Federal Court.  Because removal is permitted where the a person or entity acted "under color of" a federal agency or officer, the issue turned on whether the FTC's involvement with the tobacco industry was sufficient to say that the tobacco industry's actions with regard to the packaging and labeling of their "light" or "low-tar" products was done under the direction of the FTC.

In finding that that the tobacco industry was acting "under color of" the FTC, the Court noted that the FTC exercised "comprehensive, detailed regulation," including developing and modifying the testing method, and conducted "ongoing monitoring." The FTC had also given specific directives to the tobacco industry regarding the specific manner in which the industry agreed to disclose the tar and nicotine ratings in advertisements.  The Court also found that there was a compulsion upon the industry to act in compliance with these directives and to advertise their ratings as determined by the Cambridge Filter Method.  Ultimately, the Court found that "the acts regulated by the FTC form the basis" of the class action at issue. However, the Court noted that this ruling "reaches no conclusion on the merits of Philip Morris' preemption defense" and that this ruling was solely for the applicability of the removal statute.


Watson v. Philip Morris, 420 F.3d 852 (8th Cir. 2005)

  • United States
  • Aug 25, 2005
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit



  • Lisa Watson
  • Loretta Lawson (on behalf of all others similarly situated)


  • Philip Morris Companies, Inc.
  • Philip Morris, Inc.

Legislation Cited

Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Ark. Code. Ann. Sec. 4-88-107 et seq.

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Type of Litigation

Tobacco Control Topics

Substantive Issues

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