TOBACCO LITIGATION: Judge OKs Counties’ Suit
U.S. District Court Judge Lowell Jensen has ruled that 13 California counties can sue the tobacco industry in federal court, now that they have tailored their complaint to fit his requirements, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The suit alleges that the "tobacco companies engaged in a conspiracy to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking and the addictive nature of nicotine." The counties filing suit represent "more than half the state's population." They are seeking action against Phillip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown and Williamson Tobacco Co., B.A.T. Industries, Lorillard Tobacco Co. and the Tobacco Institute.
Jensen will allow the case on "claims of fraud, misrepresentation and negligence," the Chronicle reports. He "dismissed an earlier version of the suit, with a provision that the counties could amend their complaint." San Francisco city attorney Louise Renne said the case is significant in that "it is the first time a local government has been allowed to proceed in federal court against the industry." She added that the county intends "to pursue this suit vigorously." This case is the third lawsuit that San Francisco County has filed against the tobacco industry. The first, which seeks "penalties for violations of consumer protection laws," will go to trial in state court in March 1999. The other was settled out of court after R.J. Reynolds "agreed to shelve its Joe Camel advertising campaign and to release internal memos documenting efforts to market tobacco to teenagers." Dan Collins, attorney for Phillip Morris, said that given the judge's narrowed grounds for the new suit, "We strongly believe that they are not going to be able to prevail" (Russell, 3/5).