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Jurors began deliberating a class action lawsuit Tuesday aimed at forcing four of the nation’s largest tobacco companies to pay for a medical monitoring program for 250,000 healthy West Virginia smokers. The lawsuit, the first of its kind to be tried in the United States, is set up as a product liability case with the medical monitoring as the proposed remedy. Plaintiffs say they deserve the medical monitoring — which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars — because tobacco companies made and sold a defective product with no regard for their customers’ health. Soon after deliberations began, jurors asked for a large easel and writing pad, which they got. But Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht refused their request for cigarettes and a cutting tool, saying the cigarettes were visual aids in the trial, not evidence. During the trial, several witnesses dissected cigarettes to show how they’re designed and manufactured. Recht also refused to give them a large copy of a 1954 newspaper ad in which cigarette makers promised to put the health of smokers above all other concerns. He instructed jurors to use the smaller version of the ad that is part of the evidence. The smokers are demanding a screening program they say could lead to lifesaving early detection of lung cancer, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Brown & Williamson say the tests the smokers want have not been proven to detect disease soon enough to make a difference in the outcome. Plaintiffs’ attorney Scott Segal told jurors in closing arguments Monday that tobacco companies did not do enough to make sure their product was safe. “Almost never did they test the actual product they were going to sell to the consumer. Almost never,” Segal said. “If you want to fulfill your obligation, you’ve got to work on it. You’ve got to try.” Instead, the companies expanded brand lines and created “product stewardship” programs that were intended solely to maintain the status quo, Segal charged. Philip Morris attorney Sam Klein, however, said the tobacco companies have done all they can to make their products safer. Although cigarettes are inherently risky, he maintains they are not defective. Researchers trying to remove dangerous compounds from cigarettes found themselves with a difficult scientific challenge that could not always be met by spending more money, he said. Sometimes, technology wasn’t available to solve the problem. “Money can’t buy an idea, and it’s a sad but true fact that money can’t buy a scientific breakthrough,” Klein said. “The money couldn’t have gotten us there any quicker.” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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