Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Monday, 14 January 2008

Nigeria delays $44bn smoking case

Man smoking
Smoking has increased in Nigeria in recent years

A court in Nigeria has adjourned a multi-billion dollar lawsuit brought by the government against three major tobacco firms until March.

The government is seeking $44bn in compensation for the costs of treating smoking-related diseases.

The firms are also accused of deliberately trying to promote smoking among young Nigerians.

The firms, British American Tobacco, Phillip Morris and International Tobacco deny all charges.

Lawyers representing Phillip Morris were not in the Abuja court. Government lawyers said they had refused to accept their summons.

The BBC's Alex Last in Nigeria says this lawsuit is likely to take quite some time.

The federal government case follows the decision of Nigerian state governments to sue the tobacco firms for billions of dollars.

We haven't got a clue where the government got the amount they are asking for
Catherine Armstrong, BAT

They hope to follow the model of states in the US, who sued big tobacco in the 1990s and then settled out of court for billions of dollars.

Our correspondent says the actual amount sought in compensation by the Nigerian government is considerably more than the entire federal budget.

Cynics say the government has never spent anywhere near that amount on health care - which is in a state of collapse because of decades of mismanagement and corruption.

But anti-smoking campaigners and some civil rights groups have welcomed the decision to sue.

For decades, tobacco firms have been accused of aggressively targeting Africa as a market, to offset the impact of tougher anti smoking regulations introduced in the west.

video and audio news
Background to the legal action

Nigeria takes on tobacco giants
14 Jan 08 |  Africa
Smoking curbs: The global picture
01 Jun 07 |  Special Reports
Country profile: Nigeria
16 Oct 07 |  Country profiles
Why do we smoke?
31 May 06 |  Africa
BAT cash round reaches Nigeria
24 Sep 01 |  Business
Q&A: Anti-smoking treaty
21 May 03 |  Health


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