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Partners:
  Smokers Finish Presenting Case

By Vicki Smith
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2001; 7:15 p.m. EDT

WHEELING, W.Va. –– Healthy smokers suing the tobacco industry for a unique medical screening program finished presenting evidence Tuesday and immediately found themselves facing a 6-inch stack of motions to dismiss the case.

The defense motions contend the smokers have failed to prove their case and ask Circuit Judge Arthur Recht to rule in favor of R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard.

Jurors were told to return Thursday, when the defense is scheduled to call its first witness.

The class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of some 250,000 West Virginians seeks the creation of an industry-funded medical program that would provide free tests for symptom-free smokers. The class members are people who have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for at least five years, but who are not sick.

It is the first medical monitoring case of its kind to go to trial in the United States, forcing the tobacco companies to defend what is essentially a product liability claim.

The class members contend cigarette smoke is proven to cause lung cancer, emphysema and other lung diseases. They also argue cigarettes have been produced for decades with "wanton and willful" disregard for public health.

Cigarette makers deny their products are defective and say smokers would be best served by quitting.

The prosecution showed jurors videotaped testimony of Bennett LeBow, a Miami financier who bought Liggett Group in 1986. A decade later, he broke ranks with the industry and released documents that showed cigarette makers had long known their products caused cancer.

In a 1998 speech at Drexel University, LeBow defended his actions as "the right thing to do."

LeBow handed over the documents because "I wanted to have no part in a cover-up," said LeBow, now the chief executive of The Vector Group, Liggett's parent. "I wanted a clean break."

Under further questioning, LeBow admitted Liggett was in dire financial straits when it decided to cooperate with 46 state attorneys general suing the industry to recoup health care costs.

Under the deal Liggett made with the attorneys general, it was relieved of paying into a huge cash settlement with the states as long as its market share remains below 1.67 percent.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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