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Big Tobacco Confident of Winning Case

WASHINGTON -- Tobacco industry lawyers say the government won't be able to prove that cigarette makers schemed for decades to deceive the public about smoking dangers and that the industry intends to continue such conduct, reported the Associated Press.

Industry lawyers will offer opening arguments in the $280 billion civil racketeering case against them on Wednesday.
Government lawyers alleged in opening remarks Tuesday that the industry knew smoking was linked to disease but set up research and public relations organizations to cast doubt on that.

Justice Department lawyers quoted numerous industry officials issuing public denials, but Philip Morris attorney William Ohlemeyer said showing industry executives were out of step with public health officials does not prove fraud occurred. "They have to prove more than people made mistakes or did things they shouldn't have done," Ohlemeyer said.

He added that even if the government can prove fraud occurred, the law requires Justice attorneys to demonstrate to U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler that the fraud is likely to occur again in the future. "Legally they have to prove more than there was fraud in the past," he said. "They have to prove a reasonable likelihood of future violations."

Justice attorneys say showing fraud occurred in the past is enough to infer it will happen again. However, they also say the companies still mislead the public about the harmful nature of second hand smoke and their efforts to lure teens.

Justice attorney Frank Marine said the companies target teens through in-store promotions and magazine ads, though they deny doing so. Marine said the companies target teens because they need future customers. "They must market to teenagers to survive," he said.

The defendants are Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co.; Liggett Group Inc.; Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A.; and the Tobacco Institute.

The trial is expected to last about six months. The first witness is former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler (no relation to Judge Gladys Kessler). He is expected to take the stand Thursday and address allegations that the companies manipulated nicotine levels in cigarettes to make them more addictive.
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