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Health Groups Want Say in Tobacco Case

They claim prosecutors, after lowering possible penalties, no longer represent their interests.

June 30, 2005|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Public health groups Wednesday sought to intervene in the federal racketeering lawsuit against major tobacco companies, saying they lacked confidence in the government's handling of the case.

The six groups contended that prosecutors were no longer representing their interests after scaling down a proposed penalty. The filing to U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler asked for the chance to weigh in "solely on the issue of the appropriate and necessary remedies."

The organizations asking to intervene were the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Assn., the American Lung Assn., Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund.

"We're no longer confident that the government is going to represent the best interests of the American people in the case," said Paul Billings, a vice president at the American Lung Assn.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller declined to comment on the request. William S. Ohlemeyer, vice president of Altria Group Inc., the parent company of Philip Morris USA, said the groups' filing was "an inappropriate effort ... to improperly inject themselves into a lawsuit to which they are not parties."

In the suit, the government claims cigarette companies conspired to deceive the public about the risks of smoking.

As the trial came to a close this month, prosecutors asked for a $10-billion, five-year smoking cessation program, slashing a $130-billion plan offered by one of their own witnesses.

On Monday, prosecutors asked Kessler to impose $14 billion in penalties if she found the companies liable. Other government requests include a $4-billion education campaign and bans on practices such as flavored cigarettes.

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