Handing a crucial victory to the tobacco industry, a Manhattan federal appeals panel ruled Friday that two New York union health funds and four public employees health plans cannot proceed with class action suits against major tobacco companies.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said that the economic damages allegedly suffered by the plaintiffs, who claimed that they should be repaid for benefits paid to injured smokers, were too remote to be actionable.

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