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    Tobacco Suit Headed for Trial

    Ruling against cigarette makers could lead to price increases or additional retailing restrictions.


    WASHINGTON -- Eleven months after President Bush took office, the Justice Department's lawsuit against tobacco companies is moving toward a trial in 2003, despite Bush's campaign criticism of the case.

    Last month, government lawyers filed reports from 22 expert witnesses they intend to use in the civil case alleging that since the 1950s, the tobacco industry has misled and defrauded the public about smoking's dangers, according to the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal.

    In February, the industry will file reports from its expert witnesses. The trial is set for July 2003. Any significant judgment against cigarette makers could lead to price increases and further retailing restrictions.

    Tobacco companies, which contributed heavily to Bush and Republicans in the 2000 elections, are trying to get a judge to do what the White House wouldn't: Declare the case to be without merit.

    "We think the lawsuit was politically motivated when it was launched by the Clinton administration," said Brown & Williamson spokesman Mark Smith. "It's regrettable it's costing the government and taxpayers a lot of money and it ought to be dismissed."

    Besides Brown & Williamson, the companies named in the suit include American Tobacco, the Liggett Group, Lorillard Tobacco, Philip Morris Cos. Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and two now-defunct trade organizations, the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research USA Inc.

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