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Addiction to Tobacco Disputed in Racketeering Suit

WASHINGTON -- Tobacco industry lawyers disputed the government's use of the word "addiction" to describe cigarette-smoking during testimony on Tuesday in the $280 billion racketeering case against the industry, according to Reuters.

Questioning a drug expert testifying for the government, lawyers for cigarette makers argued that use of the word "addiction," beginning with a 1988 Surgeon General's report, was vague and politically motivated.

"Whether you call it an addiction, a habit, a dependency or something else, it does not mean people cannot quit, does it?" Philip Morris lawyer Ted Wells asked Neal Benowitz, one of the scientists who oversaw the Surgeon General's report.

Benowitz told U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler that people who try to quit smoking are almost as likely to fail as those trying to give up hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Wells showed the judge internal government memos and news articles in which Benowitz and other scientists discussed how describing smoking as an "addiction" could make it easier for the government to impose regulations on tobacco and aid plaintiffs in their lawsuits against cigarette makers.

But Benowitz denied that scientists who oversaw the 1988 report were improperly biased against the industry. "How can you be a physician or public health official and be impartial about tobacco?" Benowitz said.

The government suit, launched in 1999, targets Altria Group Inc. and its Philip Morris USA unit; Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco unit, which has a tracking stock, Carolina Group; Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group; Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit and British American Tobacco Plc unit British American Tobacco Investments Ltd.

The government charges cigarette makers lied about the dangers of smoking as part of a 50-year industry conspiracy.

In another development in the trial, a federal appeals court reversed an earlier ruling by Kessler that would have immediately required a subsidiary of British American Tobacco to turn over a potentially incriminating document sought by the U.S. Justice Department.

An appeals court panel ruled that the company had not automatically waived attorney-client privilege over the "Foyle memorandum," a 1990 document long sought by the Justice Department as part of the racketeering case.

The document contains advice from a lawyer about BAT's document retention policy, but government lawyers have said it may actually be evidence of systematic document destruction by the company.

The appeals court sent the issue back to Kessler to decide on the government's claim the company's actions had triggered a "crime-fraud" provision that would nullify attorney-client privilege.
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