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(May 23, 2001) -- A lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court alleges tobacco manufacturers have engaged in a conspiracy to hide the health effects of tobacco and market their product to children.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Michael D. Hausfield and Johnnie L. Cochran, seeks triple damages under a federal racketeering count. It asks that the tobacco companies be required to disgorge any profits they got as a result of the conspiracy and to fund an educational ad campaign.

The suit is in some regards similar to one filed by the Justice Department. Messrs. Cochran and Hausfield said one reason they filed the suit is because of congressional attempts to block the Justice Department suit.

The new suit, if it reaches trial, appears to require the attorneys to prove that tobacco companies targeted underage youth. That charge has never been proved in court because other suits have either been tossed out or settled. The two lawyers said they intend to prove the charges.

They also said that state attorneys general who have the right to sue to block any tobacco ad campaigns targeting children haven't done so because they are elected officials.

Tobacco makers today said the complaint has "no merit." -- Ira Teinowitz

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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