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The Justice Department should continue its lawsuit against tobacco companies, says a doctors group concerned that the Bush administration isn’t increasing money for the litigation. “Justice cannot tolerate a double standard, one for the makers of defective tires and toys and another for Big Tobacco,” the American Medical Association said in a recent letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft. “Competent legal staff and federal funding for this lawsuit are vital components for this court action,” the AMA said in the letter dated May 3. Ashcroft recently told Congress that he didn’t plan to grant a request from Justice Department lawyers for an additional $57 million. He insisted the administration was not planning to drop the 2-year-old lawsuit or transfer lawyers off the case. Susan Dryden, a Justice spokeswoman, said the budget request for fiscal year 2002 (which begins in October) includes $1.8 million for salaries and staff costs for the tobacco lawyers in the department’s civil division. She confirmed that budget writers did not seek money for legal work, such as gathering and analyzing the millions of documents requested by plaintiffs. Janet Reno, attorney general under President Clinton, asked for the same basic $1.8 million for fiscal 2001 and 2002, Dryden said. Congress, though, allowed the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services to transfer roughly $13 million to the Justice budget to help finance the lawsuit. Dryden said the administration is waiting to see whether Congress will take that action again. Several lawmakers have also asked Ashcroft to press the case. The Justice Department lawsuit, filed in September 1999, accused big tobacco companies of putting profits before health by concealing data showing that nicotine is addictive and that smoking causes disease. The government seeks to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in medical costs borne by federal health programs over the years to pay for smoking-related illnesses. Tobacco companies have denied the charges. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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