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Claim that cigarette makers lured youths can proceed

WASHINGTON -- The government's claim that tobacco companies aggressively marketed cigarettes to children can proceed as part of a $289 billion Justice Department lawsuit against the industry, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

US District Judge Gladys Kessler denied a motion by the companies to dismiss a section of the case alleging a youth marketing campaign was part of a decades-long effort to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking in violation of federal racketeering laws.

The government lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks compensation for smoking-related health care costs borne by the government. It points to such cartoon characters as Joe Camel as evidence of an effort to target children, along with advertising that glamorized smoking; placement of products in stores near schools and at movies and rock concerts; and ads in magazines that cater to young readers.

The goal, according to government lawyers, was to sustain and expand the cigarette market by targeting children as a pool of potential new smokers to replace those who quit or died. The companies, including Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., and others, deny they tailored advertising campaigns to youngsters.

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