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The Smoke Clears

Twenty Indian tribes have no right to any of the $200 billion the tobacco industry agreed to pay under the landmark 1998 accord between cigarette makers and 46 states, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

A lawsuit filed by the tribes in San Francisco in 1999 claimed that American Indians were counted for census data used to determine how the settlement money would be distributed in the states, but that the Indian tribes were not given any payments, the Associated Press reported.

The suit said that amounted to racial discrimination and a breach of the tribes' sovereignty. The suit sought $1 billion in compensation and punitive damages from several tobacco companies.

The case stemmed from a 1998 deal between the tobacco industry and 46 states in which the industry agreed to pay the states roughly $200 billion, according to the report. The payments, to recoup the states' costs to treat ill smokers, were in exchange for the states' dropping of any legal claims against cigarette makers.

But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the tribes had no legal standing to sue the tobacco companies because they have not "suffered injury" by being excluded.

The panel said the tribes had not proven that they have paid to treat ill smokers. The court noted that the states, unlike the tribes, submitted claims to the tobacco companies that were rejected.

The 46 attorneys general and the tobacco companies did not include the tribes because they were not a party to the settled suits. "I'm sympathetic to them wanting to get a share of the revenue," Kristen Grainger, a spokeswoman for the Oregon attorney general's office to the Associated Press. "They couldn't be included in a settlement. It only involved everybody who was a party to the lawsuits."
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