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Tobacco Cos. Claim Safer Cigarettes

June 24, 1999

MIAMI (AP) _ Tobacco companies have worked for years to make their products safe by lowering tar and nicotine, an industry lawyer said Thursday during closing arguments in the first class-action lawsuit by smokers to reach trial.

``Collectively, this industry (employed) over 1,000 scientists to work on the problem of improving this product to make a safer cigarette,″ R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. attorney Benjamine Reid said. ``These companies did not sit idly by while this debate was going on.″

Reid said that levels of tar and nicotine in all brands of cigarettes have been reduced 68 percent since 1954.

Lawyers for an estimated 500,000 sick Florida smokers or their survivors are seeking at least $200 billion from Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and other cigarette makers and industry groups.

Reid said that companies never intended to target children as the plaintiffs accused them of doing with Joe Camel cartoon advertising. The lawyer said that Joe Camel was targeted at 18- to 24-year-olds.

Lawyers for the sick smokers will address the jury Friday.

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