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Tobacco Companies to Appeal Louisiana Smokers' Class-Action Verdict

NEW YORK -- Tobacco giants Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. will both appeal the verdict by a New Orleans jury in the Scott case, which orders the nation's major cigarette manufacturers to pay approximately $590 million for a smoking cessation program in Louisiana. The case was filed on behalf of all smokers, current and former, in the state of Louisiana in 1996.

The jury rejected the plaintiffs' demand for almost $1.2 billion dollars to fund a 25-year program. Instead, the jury found the duration of the program should be 10 years.

"We are pleased that the jury rejected a substantial portion of the plaintiffs' proposed cessation program. However, the company believes this decision is legally wrong and will ask the appellate court to set it aside," said William S. Ohlemeyer, Philip Morris USA vice president and associate general counsel, in a company release.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. spokesperson Ellen Wallace echoed Ohlmeyer's sentiments. "We feel that this case is riddled with inconsistencies, inaccuracies and certainly litigation problems as to the process of the case, as well as many of the decisions that have been made during the case," she told CSNews. "We do not feel that damages should have been assessed before liability has been established, and that is what has happened in this case."

The decision was a result of the second phase of the Scott class-action trial, intended to determine the costs, scope and duration of a smoking cessation program. On July 28, 2003, a jury in the same case found cigarettes are not defective and rejected plaintiffs' request that the companies be required to fund a comprehensive medical monitoring program. The jury made other findings, including that cessation methods and other aids exist to assist smokers in quitting.

"This presents us with a problem in that there have been millions of people who have quit smoking on their own since the case was filed," said Wallace. "We just don't feel that this is the right type of program, or that our money would be spent wisely."

The cigarette companies will ask the court to set aside the verdict. If that motion is unsuccessful, the company will appeal once judgment is entered.

"Most of the financial analysts feel that this decision will be overturned on appeal," said Wallace. "In this particular case, there are no individual damages that can be given to the smokers, because state law precludes that. So, you're dealing with sort of an unknown class of tremendous proportions."

Other defendants in the case included Lorillard Tobacco Co. Inc. and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.
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