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ATTENDANTS CAN EXPAND SUIT OVER SMOKY PLANES

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Thousands of flight attendants who say their health was damaged by secondhand smoke inside planes can band together in a class-action lawsuit against tobacco companies, a judge ruled.

A $5 billion lawsuit filed by 30 flight attendants can be expanded to include up to 60,000 attendants who say the smoke injured their health, Dade County Circuit Judge Robert Kaye ruled Monday.Kaye's decision is the first in the nation to allow a class-action against tobacco companies on behalf of non-smokers.

"Some of the flight attendants developed lung cancer as a result of their exposure to secondhand smoke, many others have sinus, bronchial and all kinds of respiratory diseases," said their lawyer, Stanley Rosenblatt.

The defendants include American Brands, the American Tobacco Co., Brooke Group Ltd., Liggett Group, Loews Corp., Lorillard Inc., Philip Morris and RJR Nabisco.

The class-action status "is a tremendous step in terms of protecting those in the airline industry, and it is a significant step in protecting the rights and needs of non-smokers," Sherri Watson, a lobbyist for the American Lung Association, told The New York Times.

Tobacco companies "think the decision is wrong, and it will be overturned on appeal," said Charles P. Wall, associate general counsel for Philip Morris. He said the industry is considering appealing to the Florida Supreme Court.

Kaye initially rejected Rosen-blatt's class-action request in 1992 but was overruled by Florida's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which ordered the judge to consider arguments for and against class-action status.

Rosenblatt also filed another lawsuit earlier this year, contending that tobacco companies increase the nicotine content of cigarettes to keep smokers addicted.