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Ontario To Sue US Tobacco Firms

April 24, 1999

TORONTO (AP) _ The Ontario government wants to take the United States tobacco industry to court in a bid to recover as much as $40 billion, Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer announced.

Ontario has obtained legal counsel in the United States as part of its plan to be the first Canadian jurisdiction to sue the industry for damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The lawyers, invoking the statute, will argue that the tobacco industry is a criminal conspiracy, guilty of a pattern of wrongdoing that has resulted in injury. The statute was originally aimed at organized crime.

``Ontario is taking a leadership role as the first Canadian jurisdiction to retain U.S. counsel with the intent to seek damages,″ Witmer said Friday at a news conference.

Money from a successful U.S. court action would be applied to the cost of health care to treat smoking-related illnesses, she said. Funds also would be allocated for public awareness and education programs about the risks of tobacco use.

U.S. state governments launched legal proceedings against the tobacco industry, with 46 states settling last year for $206 billion payable over 25 years. The other four states reached settlements ranging from $4 billion to $15 billion.

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