Smokers Win Ruling to Bring Class-Action Suit

Saturday, February 8, 1995

By MYRON LEVIN
LOS ANGELES TIMES STAFF WRITER

Litigation: Millions get approval to join complaint seeking damages for health problems.

A federal judge on Friday granted class certification to tens of millions of smokers in a lawsuit against cigarette makers, creating what may be the largest class action ever certified in U.S. legal history.

A national consortium of plaintiff lawyers won the key ruling when U.S. District Judge Okla Jones II in New Orleans cleared them to proceed on behalf of smokers in the United States and its territories who allegedly became addicted to nicotine.

The long-awaited ruling did not endorse the suit's central contention: that cigarette makers have long known their products are addictive but have concealed that information and manipulated nicotine levels to keep smokers hooked.

But by granting class certification to a vast number of current and former smokers -- even those who have not been diagnosed with smoking-related ailments -- the ruling raises the prospect of monumental damages should the plaintiffs ultimately prevail.

The decision makes the lawsuit the largest class action ever certified in the history of the law," said Don Howarth of the Los Angeles law firm of Howarth & Smith, one of the plaintiff firms allied in the case.

"We're delighted," Howarth said. "This is absolutely 95% of what we wanted. It gives us the right to take on, in one action, the tobacco industry."

Industry officials voiced disappointment with the ruling and said they will appeal.