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A large class of tobacco farmers has settled a major antitrust case against most of the nation’s cigarette manufacturers. In 2000, several hundred thousand farmers sued the cigarette makers in federal court in North Carolina, alleging that the manufacturers conspired to fix the price of leaf tobacco sold at auctions. The Friday settlement, valued at more than $1 billion in all, requires the cigarette companies to pay $200 million to the growers. Just as important, says plaintiffs’ lawyer Alan Wiseman of Howrey Simon Arnold & White, is a provision requiring the manufacturers to buy at least 405 million pounds of tobacco annually from domestic growers for 10 years. “Cigarette companies are buying more and more offshore, and farmers are going bankrupt,” says Wiseman. “This will help stop that hemorrhaging.” Also representing the growers was Alexander Pires of Washington, D.C.’s Conlon, Frantz, Phelan & Pires. Denise Keane, Philip Morris USA’s vice president and general counsel, said in a statement that the deal “allows us to put to rest this controversy and to begin to make progress on issues that tobacco manufacturers and growers have in common.” R.J. Reynolds did not settle. In a statement, it said it “has not engaged in the activities alleged in the complaint and remains confident that it will prevail at trial,” which is set for April 2004.

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