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Jury selection began yesterday in a statewide class-action lawsuit against the nation's tobacco companies, seeking to force cigarette-makers to pay for medical testing and to help smokers in Louisiana quit.
The suit, filed in 1997, claims that tobacco companies manipulated nicotine levels to keep people addicted. Unlike more high-profile tobacco trials, such as in Florida where the industry was hit by a $145 billion judgment in July 2000 and a $3 billion award by a Los Angeles jury on June 6 to a cancer-stricken smoker, an eye-popping punitive damage award does not appear possible because of state caps on such damages.
Jury selection could take up to two months and the trial could take a year, said Christine Cox, a spokeswoman for a national group of attorneys handling suits against the tobacco industry. The suit will be held by Civil District Judge Richard Ganucheau in two phases.