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French health insurance fund sues 4 tobacco groups, claiming 18.6 mln eur

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PARIS (AFX) - A regional branch of France's national health insurance fund CPAM is suing Altadis SA, Philip Morris, JTI-Reynolds and BAT-Rothmans for the costs of caring for illnesses linked to cigarette smoking.

The CPAM of the western city of Saint-Nazaire is claiming 18.6 mln eur as reimbursement for spending on 1,435 patients suffering from different forms of cancer as well as arterioscelerosis.

The health fund will also demand 3.6 mln eur to provide annual contributions from the companies to cover health costs linked to smoking, and also contributions to pay for cancer screening facilities and free treatment for people trying to quit smoking.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind in France.

"We want the justice system to recognise the responsibility of cigarette manufacturers in causing cancer and get back the money which we have had to spend on illnesses linked to tobacco," said Guy Couillaud, CPAM's chief executive in Saint-Nazaire.

"Every year nearly 7 bln eur are spent and 60,000 people die in France of tobacco-related diseases," CPAM's lawyer Francis Caballero told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

The court case will open tomorrow in Saint-Nazaire. Judges are expected to adjourn immediately to consider the evidence, with a ruling expected within a few months.

Copyright 2003 AFX News Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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