Senators re-ignite tobacco row

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Five Democrats in the Senate yesterday called on Janet Reno, US Attorney-General, to file a federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry to recover the costs of paying for Medicare and Medicaid patients with tobacco-related diseases.

"It's time the federal government joins the states in seeking reimbursement for the huge health care costs smoking and the use of tobacco products impose on American taxpayers," said Senators Frank Lautenberg, Ron Wyden, Tom Harkin, Dick Durbin and Paul Wellstone in a letter to Ms Reno.

Senator Wellstone said staff members of the Justice Department had expressed "a great deal of interest" in filing the suit. White House officials also supported the senators' request for a federal suit.

So far, 23 state attorney-generals have filed suits against the industry and the first state trial is scheduled to begin in July in Mississippi.

Senator Harkin said that given that Liggett Group's recent admission that smoking caused cancer and that it targeted children in marketing products, the government now had a strong enough suit to file against the industry.

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