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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK


Snooker star to sue tobacco firms

Higgins attracted an army of fans

Former world snooker champion Alex Higgins has announced he is going to sue the tobacco industry.

Belfast-born Higgins, who is suffering from throat cancer, said he has instructed a Dublin solicitor to start legal proceedings on his behalf.

[ image: Higgins' gaunt appearance has shocked fans]
Higgins' gaunt appearance has shocked fans
He claims he had no idea of the dangers of smoking and thinks he has a very strong case.

He is joining in a court case being taken on behalf of up to 200 Irish people by Dublin solicitor Peter McDonnell.

Mr McDonnell said the snooker star's recruitment to the legal proceedings would be "a great boost to the others fighting this case".

Gaunt and weak

The ex-champion looks gaunt and weak after more than 40 doses of radiotherapy and an operation to remove a cancerous lymph node in his neck. Many were shocked at his appearance at actor Oliver Reed's funeral two months ago.

The man dubbed Hurricane Higgins in his snooker heyday has described himself as "a living example of the damages of smoking".

He said: "I intend to fight this case to the end. It's easy to stop smoking. I have a strong will-power. What chance has cancer against me?

"Forget about cigarettes completely. I've got a taste for ice-cream now. "Generally, get away from the weed. It's going to do you some sort of damage."

Higgins was 22 when he won snooker's world championship at his first attempt in 1972, and repeated the feat in 1982.

In Tobacco Wars on Tuesday night, BBC1's history of the cigarette, the legendary player blames the industry for his 30-year habit and free cigarettes during tournaments.

But Higgins tells Michael Buerk that he believes he will beat the disease.

Cancer treatment

[ image: Buerk presents the series]
Buerk presents the series
With a voice reduced to a whisper by the cancer, he said he felt "nothing but disgust" for the industry that still sponsors all the major snooker tournaments.

"The tobacco companies and snooker were as thick as thieves," he said.

"Obviously I think that they have got their advertising for a song for 25 years. Cigarettes are everywhere in snooker. Freebies everywhere. Most snooker players were given free cigarettes."

When Michael Buerk asked him if he was going to live, he said: "Of course. I have got a heart like a lion."

Higgins was known as a 'flair' player and attracted an army of fans. But he led a colourful life away from the sport and drank heavily throughout his tempestuous career.

Both snooker and Formula One racing are rare exceptions to the current ban on tobacco sponsorship of sport.

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