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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tobacco Giants Sued Over Fine Print

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Global tobacco giants Philip Morris and British American Tobacco will be put on trial, have their cigarettes pulled off local shelves and fined $18 million if a writer, an economist and a politician get their way.

In a lawsuit filed last week in a Moscow court, State Duma Deputy Alexei Mitrofanov — a member of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia — Mytishchi writer Alexander Sorokin and Rostov economist Sergei Cherednichenko accused the companies of violating the country's consumer protection laws.

The plaintiffs say Philip Morris and BAT are violating the law by not printing on each pack of their international brands of cigarettes either the location of the factory where they are produced or an address where consumers can lodge complaints if they are unsatisfied with the product.

Mitrofanov said in a telephone interview Wednesday that by not printing where their cigarettes are manufactured — which the State All-Union Standard, or GOST, demands — the two companies are misleading consumers into thinking that products produced in Russia are actually imported from the West.

"These companies understand that [their profits] would suffer if customers knew that international brands are produced in Russia," Mitrofanov said.

The $18 million suit accuses the companies of failing to print their address on packaging.

Both Philip Morris, which makes Marlboro, Chesterfield, LM and Parliament, and BAT, which produces the popular brand Yava Zolotaya locally and imports Kent, Vogue and Lucky Strike, said Wednesday they were shocked by the lawsuit, which they only learned about from local media reports.

Mitrofanov said that he is asking the court to order Philip Morris and BAT to recall all their products that are in violation of GOST standards and pay up to 500 million rubles ($17.8 million) in "moral damages."

"[$17.8 million] will not affect the business of Philip Morris and BAT in Russia, but it's a decent sum for both them and us," Mitrofanov said, adding that the money should be used to launch an "aggressive" anti-smoking campaign.

Mitrofanov also said the suit is just one of several he intends to file against the companies. The next issue to be addressed is the difference in quality between imported and domestically produced cigarettes of the same brand. And another complaint is that the companies do not print expiration dates for their products, he said.

"The suit is far-fetched," said Dmitry Yanin, acting vice president of the lobbying group Consumer Rights Confederation.

Both companies said Wednesday that it's too early to comment because they have neither received official notification of the complaint from the court nor seen the full text of the suit.

Nevertheless, Mitrofanov said the court will hear preliminary arguments in the suit before the end of the month.