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Mass. smokers sue Philip Morris on cancer checks


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BOSTON, Dec 15 (Reuters) - A group of heavy Marlboro smokers have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boston, asking Philip Morris USA to pay for screenings that may detect the early stages of lung cancer, court documents showed on Friday.

The class-action lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of current and former Marlboro smokers over 50 years old who smoked a pack or more a day for 20 years, demands the tobacco company pay for an annual low-dose X-ray scan of the chest.

It is modeled on a similar lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Brooklyn in January. Both suits are unlike typical tobacco-related litigation that has sought billions of dollars in punitive damages from cigarette companies.

Attorneys with Thornton & Naumes, who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boston on Thursday, said as many as 80,000 at-risk Massachusetts residents may become part of the class in the lawsuit.

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"Simply stated, this surveillance if made available will save the lives and ease the suffering of a significant number of the members of the proposed class," the lawsuit said.

Lisa Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Altria Group Inc. (MO.N: Quote, Profile , Research), the parent of Philip Morris, said the company had seen the lawsuit, but added that juries in two other cases in which smokers sought payment for "medical monitoring" ruled in favor of the tobacco company.

"Smokers' medical monitoring class actions have been consistently rejected by the overwhelming majority of trial and appellate courts since the first one was filed in 1994," Gonzalez said.

Lung cancer kills more people by far than any other type of cancer. It is caused mostly by smoking but also by exposure to smoke, radioactive substances, asbestos and a few other substances. Lung cancer is diagnosed in 173,000 Americans yearly and kills 164,000. It kills 1.3 million a year globally.

The case follows a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in October that suggests annual computed tomography (CT) scans can catch lung cancer when it is still curable.

CT scans are special X-rays and a low-dose scan is used to minimize the risk that the procedure itself could cause cancer. Thornton & Naumes said low-dose CT scans cost about $500 each and are not usually covered by health insurance.

As in the New York case, the Massachusetts plaintiffs are not seeking compensatory or punitive damages. Attorneys Levy Philips & Konigsberg, which filed the New York lawsuit, are also counsel in the Massachusetts case.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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