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Ireland may aid suit against tobacco industry

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A lawyer representing about 100 people who claim their health has suffered through smoking met the Irish health minister on Thursday in a bid to get legal aid for a landmark damages case against tobacco manufacturers.

Solicitor Peter McDonnell, who has already begun proceedings for two middle-aged women who had been smoking since childhood, said after meeting minister Brian Cowen that he was very pleased with the Health Department's positive response."We understand they are considering the possibility of legal aid for the cases," McDonnell said, adding that Cowen would raise the matter with other European Union health ministers at a meeting next month.

On October 17, McDonnell began proceedings on behalf of Susan Reilly, 42, and Ann Moloney, 43, against subsidiaries of the tobacco giants Gallaher and Imperial Tobacco.

They are also suing Rothmans International, which is 60 percent owned by Swiss firm Richemont and 40 percent owned by the South African Rembrandt Group.

The claims were as a direct result of groundbreaking litigation in the United States, where two states secured billions of dollars from the tobacco industry to pay for the medical costs of smoking-related diseases, and where a $368.5 billion national settlement is pending.

McDonnell's clients are either long-term smokers who are incapacitated or suffering from illnesses they blame on tobacco, primarily lung cancer, or people who have lost family members through such illnesses.