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Firm Files Class-Action Lawsuit Against Tobacco Companies

September 4, 1996

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ A group of Minnesota smokers sued a number of tobacco companies Wednesday, claiming the companies concealed the addictive nature of nicotine and manipulated nicotine levels to get them hooked.

The suit was filed in Ramsey County District Court against industry leaders including Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. and American Tobacco Co.

Attorneys said the lawsuit is the eighth class action filed against the industry, joining actions in Alabama, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Those cases are in addition to 13 lawsuits filed by states, including Minnesota, to recover money spent treating tobacco-related illnesses. The states also contend the industry has deceived the public for decades about the dangers of smoking.

The tobacco industry insists nicotine is neither addictive nor manipulated, and says class-actions are inappropriate because every smoker reacts differently to cigarettes.

The lawsuit asks for certification as a class action to include all cigarette smokers in the state who use products made by the companies. A federal court in New Orleans threw out a similar class-action lawsuit in May that had been filed by Dianne Castano, whose husband died of lung cancer. Lawyers are now filing similar but simpler suits in state courts around the country.

``We’re essentially seeing a group of traveling plaintiffs’ lawyers, searching in desperation for a court somewhere that is willing to overlook and essentially disregard the wisdom and experience of courts elsewhere that have recognized that these cases as class actions just cannot work,″ said Philip Morris attorney Michael York.

``The cases have no more place in state court than they do in federal court,″ said R.J. Reynolds spokeswoman Peggy Carter.

The latest lawsuit alleges that the industry concealed information about the addictive nature of nicotine, manipulated nicotine levels, and has been advertising to young people with the intention of addicting them while they are young.

``The elimination of this particularly egregious target marketing is a major goal of this lawsuit,″ said attorney Randy Hopper of the Minneapolis law firm Zimmerman Reed, which also was one of the 60 law firms involved in the Castano case.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Vern Masepohl, a Minnesotan in his early 30s who Hopper said began smoking at about age 11 and has missed a great deal of work because of smoking-related illnesses.

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