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Tobacco Trial Resumes

West Virginia smokers suing the tobacco industry for an unprecedented medical monitoring program returned to court yesterday to begin building their case -- a case put on hold for nearly a week by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The trial was in its second day when Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht sent jurors home Sept. 11, according to the Associated Press.

Some 250,000 healthy smokers are suing R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris and Lorillard for medical tests the plaintiffs say could predict emphysema and other lung diseases that cigarettes are likely to cause.

The class includes people who have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for at least five years, but who have not yet developed a tobacco-related illness. The smokers say tobacco companies manufactured a defective product with "wanton and willful" disregard for the health of customers, the report said.

Industry lawyers say that while their product is inherently risky, it is not defective. The tobacco companies say they have spent billions of dollars on in-house and independent research, funding Council for Tobacco Research projects that were cited 600 times in Surgeon General reports.

Medical monitoring in this case means lung-function tests for all symptom-free smokers at age 40, with a second test at age 45 and tests every two years after that. Starting at age 50, healthy smokers also would get spiral computerized tomography scans, which generate three-dimensional images of organs and could potentially reveal disease earlier than other tests.

The tobacco companies say CT scans are experimental technology unproven at diagnosing disease soon enough to make a difference in the outcome. The case is the first of its kind to go to trial in the United States.
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