The admission came in a dramatic settlement reached by the Liggett Group, the number five cigarette manufacturer in the United States, with the attorneys general of 22 US states. All 22 are pursuing lawsuits against the whole industry that could result in billions of dollars in medical damages.
"This is the beginning of the end for the conspiracy of lies and deception that has been perpetrated against the American public by the tobacco companies," declared Grant Woods, the Attorney General of Arizona.
Liggett, which makes Chesterfield and L&M cigarettes, formally acknowledged that cigarettes are addictive and medically harmful and pledged to begin saying as much in new warnings printed on their packs. It has agreed to pay out 25 per cent of its pre-tax profits for the next 25 years.
The company pledged also to hand over internal documents that threaten to expose the industry's alleged efforts to conceal the dangers of smoking.
Philip Morris, the industry leader, hit back even before last night's announcement. In a North Carolina court, it won a temporary restraining order to block the release by Liggett of the documents.
The manoeuvre was ridiculed by the attorneys general, however. "That dog won't hunt," insisted Mike Moore of Mississippi. The first of the lawsuit trials is set to open in his state in just three weeks' time.
Mr Moore said the Liggett papers were the "most incriminating documents ever in the history of tobacco litigation".
Predicting that they would be released in time for the trial, he added: "I guarantee that we will bring the tobacco companies to their knees."Reuse content