US tobacco giant Philip Morris has been ordered to pay $10.1bn in damages for misleading smokers into thinking “light” cigarettes were safer than regular ones.

At a court in Illinois Judge Nicholas Byron described the cigarette maker’s motives as “evil and showed a reckless disregard for the consumers’ rights”.

Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro, was ordered to pay $7.1bn in compensation damages, as the plaintiffs had sought. However, Byron only awarded $3bn in punitive damages - which penalise companies for wrong-doing - well below the $14bn the plaintiffs had argued for.

Philip Morris said it would appeal against the decision despite Judge Byron’s ruling that the company would have to post a $12bn bond in order to appeal against the verdict.

Similar trials are due to take place reportedly a case against RJ Reynolds and also a trial against Brown & Williamson, which is part of British American Tobacco.