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Light Cigarette Smokers Say In Lawsuit Big Tobacco Lied About Tar, Nicotine Harm

May 11, 2004 | AP

Major tobacco companies marketed light cigarettes as being less harmful than regular cigarettes despite knowing they deliver comparable amounts of tar and nicotine when smoked, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of three Long Island smokers.

The suit, filed by two Washington, D.C.-based law firms, accuses eight tobacco companies under civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of conspiring to deceive smokers by saying light cigarettes were not as harmful to their health as regular ones.

The light cigarette fraud was merely the next step in the cigarette companies' decades-long efforts to deceive the American public about the real dangers of smoking.

The lawsuit names Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., the Liggett Group, American Tobacco Co., British American Tobacco and the Altria Group, which owns Philip Morris, as plaintiffs.

The suit was filed in the federal court for the Eastern District in Brooklyn before U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, who has handled several tobacco cases.

The suit joins a backlog of tobacco claims filed in federal court in Brooklyn, some under civil provisions of the RICO statute. Unlike class action suits filed by consumers, most of the other Brooklyn cases were brought by third parties, including health insurance groups that want Big Tobacco to share the cost of treating patients with cigarette-related illnesses.

All the Brooklyn tobacco cases have been assigned to Weinstein, whose record includes devising far-reaching settlements for asbestos and Agent Orange litigation.

Weinstein has sought to steer lawyers toward negotiating a nationwide settlement of all tobacco cases.

"The time for bringing a close to tobacco litigation is nigh," he wrote in one order.

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