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Jury Rules for Tobacco Industry

WHEELING, W. Va. A West Virginia jury yesterday rejected an unprecedented class-action tobacco lawsuit brought by healthy smokers who wanted four cigarette makers to pay for annual health screenings.In the first U.S. tobacco trial to examine the issue of medical monitoring, some 250,000 West Virginia smokers had demanded that the tobacco industry create a special fund to subsidize screening for the early detection of lung cancer, emphysema, and other smoking-related illnesses, the Associated Press reported.The trial lasted two months. But after just two days of deliberations, the Ohio County jury of three men and three women -- five of them former smokers -- decided unanimously that smoking the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day did not necessitate industry-funded medical monitoring.The jury also denied plaintiff allegations that cigarette makers were negligent in designing, manufacturing, and selling what amounted to defective products."Today's decision is a verdict for common sense," Philip Morris attorney William Ohlemeyer said. "People make informed choices about smoking and the law requires them to be responsible for these choices."A verdict against the tobacco industry could have meant hundreds of millions of dollars in new costs for the defendants -- R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris Cos. Inc., British American Tobacco Plc unit Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., and Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco Co.Plaintiffs in the case had consisted of people who smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for five years but had no symptoms of tobacco-related diseases. They sought annual tests for people beginning at age 45.
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