Major tobacco firms face $5 billion lawsuit

March 30, 1994|By Bloomberg News Service

WASHINGTON -- America's largest tobacco companies today were hit with a $5 billion class action lawsuit for the "wrongful deaths and disabilities" of thousands of cigarette smokers.

The suit, filed in New Orleans by attorneys Melvin Belli and Wendell Gauthier, alleges that the tobacco companies intentionally added extra nicotine to cigarettes to keep customers addicted. It claims that tobacco companies may be criminally adulterating or misbranding their products by not listing the nicotine levels on cigarette packs.

"We will prove that the tobacco industry has conspired to catch you, hold you and kill you, all without a moment of remorse or self-examination," Mr. Belli said in a news release.

Philip Morris, one of the companies listed in the lawsuit, last week filed a $10 billion lawsuit against ABC News for making similar allegations on its newsmagazine program "Day One." ABC said it stands by its reporting in the story.

"Philip Morris is not surprised that a group of plaintiff's lawyers has jumped on a misdirected publicity bandwagon created by ABC's 'Day One' television program," said Gary Long, an attorney representing Philip Morris. "There is no merit to either the substance or the class action allegations of this case."

The allegation that tobacco companies use nicotine to hook their customers is false, Mr. Long said. Moreover, the companies have won more than 100 cases where plaintiffs have been unable to prove that nicotine is addictive, he said.

Mr. Gauthier's law office said that in addition to Phillip Morris, the suit also names American Tobacco Co., Lorillard Inc. and Liggett Group Inc. as defendants.

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