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Negotiators Say Tobacco Talks Making Progress

TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

Negotiators for the major tobacco manufacturers and more than 40 state attorneys general, including Dan Lungren of California, completed a second day of talks Tuesday in New York aimed at reaching a settlement that could resolve massive suits against the industry.

Fred Olson, a spokesman for Washington Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire, one of the lead negotiators, said the two sides continued to make progress. “They are focusing on public health issues” in addition to money damages, Olson said.

The state prosecutors hope to gain restrictions on tobacco advertising and greater control over tobacco retailers, with the aim of dramatically curbing sales to teenagers.

Much of what the attorneys general hope to gain in the public health arena is based on what they would have attained under a proposed national tobacco settlement they reached with the industry in June 1997.

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That deal, which required federal legislation, foundered in Congress. The current negotiations would not require legislation to take effect.

Sources have said the monetary settlement might be in the range of $200 billion. Based on what four other states won in earlier settlements, California could realize upward of $20 billion if the talks are consummated.

Tracey Buck-Walsh, one of two special assistant attorneys general from California at the negotiations, said late Tuesday the talks were likely to go late into the evening before resuming today.

There was no immediate comment from the industry. But it is known that attorneys who have negotiated other major settlements for the cigarette makers in the past year met with state prosecutors at Davis Polk & Wardwell, the large New York firm that has represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in the talks.

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The current round of negotiations was jump-started after a judge in Seattle asked the two sides in Washington’s case to try to settle it before a mid-September trial date.

Joe Rice, a Charleston, S.C., attorney who has been involved in three of the four settlements the industry reached with states in the last year, was brought in to play a key role in the talks. His firm represents more than two dozen states that have sued the industry, including New York, Massachusetts and Oklahoma, all of which are participating in the New York talks.


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