Cigarette maker Philip Morris USA said Monday that it has filed a lawsuit against 17 retailers in the Miami area, claiming they sold counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Southern Florida, is the latest in an ongoing series of legal actions by the Henrico County-based company aimed at fighting counterfeit sales of its top-selling cigarette brand.
In recent years, the company has sued retailers and importers in New York and California for selling counterfeit versions of its cigarette brands. In February, the company filed a lawsuit in California against seven Chinese online retailers, alleging that they sold counterfeit versions of Marlboro to U.S. customers.
Philip Morris USA says many of the counterfeit cigarettes are made in China and illegally imported into the United States.
The company monitors its markets for counterfeit versions of its brands, said David Sutton, a company spokesman. “We have seen that Miami, based on our monitoring, is one of the top three markets in the U.S. for counterfeit cigarette sales, along with Los Angeles and New York,” he said.
Counterfeit cigarettes often are smuggled and sold into states with relatively high cigarette taxes. Florida’s state tax on cigarettes is $1.34 per pack, the 26th highest state tax in the nation.
But Miami also shares other characteristics with Los Angeles and New York that make it a hotbed for counterfeits, Sutton said. All three areas have high-volume ports and established criminal elements that know how to smuggle products.
Based on its own monitoring, Philip Morris USA estimated that there could be more than 1 million packs of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes available annually in the Miami area.