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Judge Won't Toss Allegations in Tobacco Trial

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge on Thursday rejected tobacco companies' request to have government allegations that they manipulated nicotine levels excluded from a racketeering trial due to start Sept. 13, reported Reuters.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said nicotine manipulation was just one component of the government's allegations of an overarching fraud that deceived the public about the dangers of smoking and the addictiveness of nicotine.

"First, the nicotine manipulation and addiction acts cannot be assessed in isolation, but must be evaluated in the context of the totality of the government's fraud case," Kessler said in her opinion rejecting the tobacco companies' motion.

Additionally, questions about whether the companies had manipulated nicotine content and if they falsely denied doing so were "disputed factual issues of intent and knowledge that can only be resolved at trial," she said.

Kessler also said that sworn affidavits by tobacco executives, in which they denied manipulating nicotine content, were not immune from liability.

"Consequently, the government must be given the opportunity to prove its claims about defendants' alleged nicotine manipulation and addiction sub-scheme at trial," she said.

The decision is the latest in a string of defeats for the tobacco industry. On Wednesday, Kessler rejected the industry's argument that the 1998 tobacco settlement with states shielded them from racketeering charges.

Filed by the Clinton administration in 1999, the suit accuses tobacco companies of deliberately misleading the public about the risks of smoking in a conspiracy going back to the 1950s. The government is seeking $280 billion in redress.

The claims have been brought against Philip Morris USA and its parent, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco unit; British American Tobacco Plc's Brown & Williamson Tobacco unit; and Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group.
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