updated 11/17/2006 2:47:17 PM ET 2006-11-17T19:47:17

A federal appeals court has decided to review a lower court ruling that let a $200 billion lawsuit filed by “light” cigarette smokers proceed as a class action, according to a court document.

The appeals court also stopped proceedings in the suit. The stay in the case, sought by Philip Morris, was issued as of Thursday, the court order said.

Defendants in the case include Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA unit; Reynolds American Inc.’s R.J. Reynolds tobacco Co.; Loews Corp.’s Lorillard Tobacco unit; Vector Group Ltd.’s Liggett Group; and British American Tobacco Plc’s British American Tobacco (Investments) Ltd.

In September, U.S. Senior District Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn, New York, granted class-action status in the case, which would have allowed the suit to go forward on behalf of all U.S. “light” cigarette smokers.

The suit argued that tobacco companies defrauded smokers into thinking “light” cigarettes were safer than regular cigarettes. Lawyers for the smokers argued that “lights” brought tobacco companies between $120 billion and $200 billion in extra sales.

Attorneys for the tobacco companies countered that there was no way to tell how many people relied on the word “light” when choosing cigarettes, and said the smokers could not be grouped together as a class action.

“I expect the class will eventually be decertified; this is a first indication of that eventuality,” said Charles Norton, co-portfolio manager of Mutuals Advisors Inc.’s Vice Fund, which owns shares in tobacco companies.

Attorneys for the smokers could not be reached to comment on the appeals court ruling.

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