Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK
Tobacco giants face legal battle
The United States Justice Department is to launch legal action against American tobacco companies.
US Attorney-General Janet Reno accused the companies of knowing far more than they disclosed about the harmful and addictive effects of smoking.
"For more than 45 years, the cigarette companies conducted their business without regard to the truth, the law, or the health of the American people."
In a statement issued after Wednesday's announcement of legal action, President Clinton said: "The Justice Department is taking the right course of action.
"It is time for America's taxpayers to have their day in court."
Ms Reno said the tobacco companies had particularly targeted young people so they would become hooked on nicotine.
In the complaint, the US Government alleges that "for the past 43 years, the companies that manufacture and sell tobacco have waged an intentional and co-ordinated campaign of deceit".
The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court, in Washington DC, names eight tobacco companies, which will be sued to recover billions of dollars spent on smoking-related health care.
"At every turn, they denied that smoking causes disease and denied that it is addictive."
The suit names Philip Morris Inc; Philip Morris Companies; RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co; American Tobacco Co; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co Inc; Liggett and Myers Inc; The Council for Tobacco Research USA Inc and the Tobacco Institute Inc.
The American Lung Association quickly gave its support to the action.
A spokesman said: "For too long, the costs [of health care] have been unfairly borne by taxpayers. Tobacco companies must be held accountable for the death, disease and economic burdens caused by their products."
But tobacco companies say they are ready to fight. They say the case is politically motivated and is not valid in law.
Last November they agreed to pay more than $200bn to 46 state authorities which had also sought compensation through the courts.
The sums involved in this case could be much greater.