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Suing Big Tobacco

Five years in the making, the enormous US Department of Justice lawsuit against the major tobacco companies finally goes to trial Tuesday in Washington.

The government will try to show that the tobacco companies purposely deceived the public about the dangers of smoking for nearly 50 years. Such health dangers, of course, have now been well documented. And previous lawsuits against Big Tobacco already have revealed industry documents showing tobacco chiefs knew about smoking-related health problems - and worse, that they were knowingly targeting children in some ads.

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For their part, the tobacco companies say that changes already made preempt the likelihood of fraud occurring again - something Justice attorneys must also prove in this current case. And the tobacco industry feels it's already paid for damages. In 1998, companies settled with 46 states to the tune of $206 billion.

Whether it wins the $280 billion the tobacco companies made in allegedly "ill-gotten" profits or not, the government also is right to go after more industry restrictions - such as limits on cigarette ads in stores, getting rid of misleading descriptions such as "low tar" and "mild," and forcing manufacturers to disclose all ingredients.

At the very least, this high-profile, high-dollar case should both alert and help further educate the public as to the addictive nature of tobacco.