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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 July, 2005, 01:06 GMT 02:06 UK
US revives $280bn tobacco claim
Man smoking a cigarette
The US is trying to use anti-mafia legislation to fine tobacco firms
The US Justice Department is once again seeking $280bn (160bn) in damages from tobacco firms it accuses of misleading the public over the dangers of smoking.

It has asked the Supreme Court to overturn an earlier decision that stopped it from chasing the damages under anti-racketeering legislation.

The government said it wanted to divest the firms of their "ill-gotten gains".

The companies had argued successfully that the legislation could not be used retroactively to fine them.

Among the firms involved in the nine-month court case are Philip Morris, Altria, RJ Reynolds, Brown & Williamson Tobacco and British American Tobacco.

The firms deny conspiring to mislead people about the dangers of smoking.

There has been controversy in the case, however, after the government decided to slash the amount of money it wanted the companies to put towards a nationwide non-smoking campaign from $130bn to $10bn.

US District Judge Gladys Kessler, who is considering the case, has questioned whether political pressure was exerted.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said the decision was made solely on the merits of the case.

Judge Kessler has since called on the sides to reach an agreement.

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