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Controversy is starting to brew over the proposed settlement of tobacco litigation as attorneys general from states that have not sued cigarette manufacturers try to get a seat at the negotiating table and perhaps win a piece of any settlement fund.
It was announced this month that the tobacco industry and attorneys general from states that have sued the cigarette manufacturers are negotiating a settlement. The proposal under discussion includes the possibility of the tobacco companies contributing $300 billion over 25 years to a fund to compensate states and individuals for the cost of smoking-related illnesses (BI, April 21).
Bill Pryor, Alabama attorney general and a critic of the attorneys general's suits, has sent a letter to the tobacco companies saying he should participate in the negotiations on behalf of those states that have not sued. Mr. Pryor said in an interview that he "would welcome the opportunity to provide perspective and input" in "all aspects" of the negotiations.
Health groups have expressed opposition to the proposed deal. In full-page newspaper advertisements appearing in major daily newspapers, the American Cancer Society said, "We must protect the rights of present and future victims of tobacco-related disease to seek their own day in court," referring to the provision of the proposed settlement that would bind future claimants to it.
George Dessart, chairman of the American Cancer Society, appeared at a press conference with representatives from the American Lung Assn., the American Heart Assn. and government officials. Mr. Dessart said the American Cancer Society opposes any settlement that "grants the tobacco industry immunity from further legal action."
In related developments, a California state court judge in San Diego has allowed four of five counts of Los Angeles County's tobacco suit to proceed. The one count dismissed is for fraud.
Also in California, three bills that would permit the state to sue the tobacco industry have been approved by legislative committees.