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Phillip Morris Suing Miami Stores Over Counterfeit Cigarettes

MIAMI (CBS4) - A major tobacco company is taking more than a dozen local retail stores to court alleging the stores are selling counterfeit cigarettes.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris accuses 17 stores of selling fake Marlboro brand cigarettes.

The owner of El Gran Shanghai in Little Havana, one of the stores named in the suit, told CBS4's Gio Benitez that he buys the cigarettes from another local company, but as soon as we started asking questions, he walked away.

"I have no idea who sells the fake cigarette," said Muhammed Ahmed, the owner of another store named in the suit called Collins Food Market in Miami Beach.

Ahmed insists the cigarettes he sells are real.

"Of course it's a real cigarette. I don't sell fake cigarettes," he said.

Ahmed whipped out a receipt, showing he bought the cigarettes from another local company.

But you might never know if they are real because counterfeit cigarette packs are identical to real ones.

Philip Morris says Miami is one of the top three areas in the country for counterfeit cigarettes. The problems spans from Little Havana to Hialeah to Miami Beach.

The company believes more than one million fake cigarette packs are sold in Miami-Dade County every year.

The black market cigarettes are made in China and are unregulated, meaning they could be worse on your health.

"There's absolutely no way to know what's being put into the product or how the product is being manufactured," said David Sutton, a spokesperson for Philip Morris USA.

And even for nonsmokers, Philip Morris argues this affects everybody in Florida.

"These products are sold to avoid the taxes, which is currently $1.34 a pack, that's the state excise tax," said Sutton.

That means the state loses more than $1.3 million from the tobacco tax. But store owner after store owner told CBS4 News that they do pay taxes.

Many of the stores may buy fake cigarettes from local distributors.

If true, that means those distributors may be named in the lawsuit later.

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