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Counties Suing Tobacco Companies

PHILADELPHIA -- The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) was supposed to end government-sponsored litigation against Big Tobacco. But some local officials, unhappy with the way states are spending the settlement money, are looking to the courts for help.

At least two counties -- one in Pennsylvania and another in Michigan -- are pursuing lawsuits against the tobacco giants, arguing that they haven't received their fair share of the $206 billion settlement, the Associated Press has learned.

Carbon County, Pa., is trying to organize a class-action lawsuit of Pennsylvania counties against the tobacco industry. So far, only Carbon County has signed on. The rural county in eastern Pennsylvania says it is entitled to millions of dollars from the state's share of the tobacco settlement to treat sick smokers. The county has been promised $136,000 per year for anti-smoking programs.

The dispute has led to an unusual alliance between the tobacco industry and the state of Pennsylvania, which plans to withhold Carbon County's share of the settlement if it goes ahead with litigation, the report said.

Under the terms of the national settlement, eight major tobacco companies agreed to pay 46 states for smoking-related health costs. Most states have used at least some of the money for programs unrelated to smoking.

In the Detroit area, Wayne County, Mich., has been pursuing a lawsuit against the tobacco industry for the past three years. The suit hit a stumbling block last month, when the Michigan Supreme Court said the county was bound by the national settlement and not permitted to sue. But a federal judge has asked the high court to revisit the case.

The national settlement insulated the tobacco industry from lawsuits by counties, cities and other political subdivisions. The settlement says that if a local government wins a judgment, the money will be deducted from the state's share.
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