The legal action is a first in Norway, and is regarded as a test case for damages against the tobacco industry. Initial hearings will take place at Oslo Lower Court December 15.
However, given that J.L. Tiedemanns intends to appeal any negative ruling, the case is expected to go all the way to the High Court.
The appellant smokers claim products mar-keted and sold by J.L. Tiedemanns, including Pall Mall and Prince, damaged their health, reduced the quality of their lives, and created the conditions for their continuing bad health.
"We are defending this case all the way. As far as we are concerned, we manufacture and sell a legal product, and we can in no way be held accountable for the bad health of others through the use of our products," says J.L. Tiedemanns spokesman Jan Robert Kvann.
Lawyers in Norway representing more than 1,000 claimants have given notice they are preparing cases against the tobacco industry, with the bulk of cases expected against J.L. Tiedemanns, Norway's biggest tobacco company.
The tobacco industry has also come under fire from the Norwegian Public Hospitals Association, which is holding talks aimed at preparing a U.S.-style legal test case against tobacco companies, claiming smoking-related illnesses are consuming an increasingly larger part of their annual budget. The association has invited the government to take part in the action.
J.L. Tiedemanns was acquired by Danish tobacco company Skandinavisk Tobakskompagni (STK) in June, in a cash deal worth $1.2 billion.
Copyright December 1998, Crain Communications Inc.