Tobacco Trial Set to Begin

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Tobacco Trial Set to Begin

NEW ORLEANS -- Unless halted by the Louisiana Supreme Court, the trial of a statewide class-action lawsuit against the nation's biggest tobacco companies is set to begin tomorrow in Civil District Court in New Orleans.

The trial, which could last six months to a year, was brought by thousands of current and former Louisiana smokers who want tobacco companies to pay for programs to help healthy smokers quit and annual medical monitoring to detect smoking-related illnesses, according to The (La.) Times-Picayune.

Defendants in the suit include R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris U.S.A. and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.

The trial is expected to include some 300 prospective witnesses and more than 6,000 possible exhibits.

To win their case, attorneys for the class must convince the jury that tobacco firms manipulated the level of nicotine in cigarettes to keep smokers addicted, the report said.

Attorneys for the cigarette-makers contend that nicotine is neither addictive nor manipulated. They tried unsuccessfully to head off the class-action trial by arguing that each smoker's reaction to cigarettes is
different, so such claims should be tried individually.

The Louisiana smokers' class-action suit will be the second in the nation to go to trial. A similar medical monitoring case on behalf of a class of 250,000 current and former smokers living in West Virginia was tried over two months last fall and ended with the jury finding in favor of the tobacco companies. The verdict is expected to be appealed.