Seven members of Congress asked the Justice Department on Friday for a criminal investigation into the tobacco industry's activities for the last 40 years.
The lawmakers contend that cigarette companies may have committed fraud and perjury beginning in the 1950s by allegedly hiding evidence that cigarettes were hazardous.
And they said the chiefs of the nation's seven largest tobacco firms may have perjured themselves when they testified before Congress last month that they had no evidence nicotine was addictive.
Confidential industry documents and information from congressional hearings now indicate that testimony was false, wrote Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) in a letter to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno.
Also signing the letter were Reps. James V. Hansen (R-Utah), Pete Stark (D-Hayward), Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Synar (D-Okla.) and Thomas M. Foglietta (D-Pa.).
Brennan Dawson, a spokeswoman for the industry's Tobacco Institute, declined comment on the letter. Company officials, in interviews and congressional hearings since March, have insisted that they have done no wrong.