Tobacco giants challenge court order

The US tobacco industry has mounted an 11th-hour legal attempt to prevent Liggett Group handing over key internal documents at the centre of the cigarette company's historic deal with anti-smoking groups.

It emerged yesterday that lawyers acting for the largest tobacco groups have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn an order issued in a lower court which would have allowed plaintiffs in a $650m passive smoking case to see 11 documents from Liggett which were due to be released late yesterday.

The move came as a judge in Florida ordered Liggett, maker of Chesterfield cigarettes, to deliver the documents to assist its review of a case involving hundreds of thousands of smokers in the state.

The documents are among the records that Liggett agreed to turn over last week in a settlement with 22 states that are suing the tobacco industry to recoup an estimated $30bn in Medicaid funds spent treating people for smoking-related illnesses.

On Wednesday, a county circuit judge said the papers could be handed over to lawyers acting for the family of Burl Butler, a Mississippi barber who died of cancer in 1994. It is alleged Mr Butler, who did not smoke himself, died from inhaling his customers' smoke over 30 years.

The plaintiffs claim the cigarette makers knew of the dangers of smoking, but kept the information hidden.

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