RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A small Virginia company that claims to have developed a safer cigarette is challenging the constitutionality of the national tobacco settlement.
Star Scientific Inc. filed the federal civil action against Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley in Richmond on Friday, seeking relief from the $206 billion agreement over health care costs signed in 1998 by leading cigarette makers and the attorneys general from 46 states.
Star claims it has been involuntarily subjected to the national agreement, limiting its ability to develop and market a safer cigarette. The company has patented a tobacco curing process that virtually eliminates a class of chemicals called nitrosamines, considered by some scientists to be the most dangerous cancer-causing compounds found in tobacco.
In October, the company began selling its Advance cigarette in Richmond and Lexington, Ky. Each package carries a warning in bold type: "There is no such thing as a 'safe' cigarette." The package also provides information on other toxins and carcinogens in cigarette smoke.
"Star Scientific has never targeted young people in its advertising, nor has it deceived the public about the addictive nature of nicotine and the range of serious health hazards linked to long-term smoking," the company said in a statement.
In the national settlement, nonparticipating tobacco companies, including Star, are required to place money in escrow for 25 years to cover their potential liability in future smoking-related lawsuits. That payments are based on the number of cigarettes sold each year by the nonparticipating companies.
Star placed $11.6 million in escrow last May "under protest," describing it as a "crushing financial burden" that exceeded the company's 1999 net income of $11.5 million.
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