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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June, 2005, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
US slashes tobacco trial penalty
Cigarette smoker
The tobacco industry now accepts smoking is harmful
The US government has unexpectedly slashed penalties it had been expected to seek in a landmark lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

Justice Department lawyers said they would not request the $130bn proposed by a government witness, but would ask for firms to pay $10bn over five years.

The funds had been earmarked for programmes to help people stop smoking.

The major tobacco companies deny that they conspired to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking.

They also say they have already met many of the government's demands in a 1998 settlement reached with 46 states.

The move came as government lawyers summed up their case in the trial.

'No explanation'

The lawsuit was filed in 1999 against companies including Altria Group and RJ Reynolds Tobacco.

Correspondents say the quit-smoking campaign was the most significant financial penalty still available to the government as part of its litigation.

Altria Group's Philip Morris USA lawyer said they were "very surprised" by Tuesday's move.

"They've gone down from $130bn to $10bn with absolutely no explanation," Dan Webb said, according to the Washington Post newspaper.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids criticised the figure.

"Their proposal is only a shadow of the smoking cessation treatment programme that their own witness testified to," William Corr said.

When the case began in 2004, the government sought to force the tobacco industry to yield $280bn in profits accumulated over the past 50 years.

They brought the case under racketeering laws, which were passed to deny mafia gangs the profits of their crimes.

But in February, a federal appeals court ruled that the administration could not seek that penalty, or bring the case under those laws.




SEE ALSO:
Why tobacco was seen as a racket
05 Feb 05 |  Business
Court rejects $280bn tobacco case
04 Feb 05 |  Business
$280bn tobacco trial under way
21 Sep 04 |  Business
US seeks $289bn in tobacco claim
19 Mar 03 |  Business


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