February 25, 2008 / 5:19 PM / 11 years ago

Nigerian state withdraws $23 bln tobacco lawsuit

LAGOS, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Nigeria’s most populous state, Lagos, has withdrawn the lawsuit it filed against three tobacco companies seeking 2.7 trillion naira ($22.9 billion) in damages, court papers showed on Monday.

But British American Tobacco (BATS.L), Altria (MO.N) unit Philip Morris International and Nigerian International Tobacco Ltd still face similar suits from the federal government and two other states.

A 5.3 trillion naira lawsuit brought by the federal government against the three firms was adjourned last month to March 17 to enable the prosecution to serve court papers on one of the defendants.

The states of Lagos, Kano and Gombe had sued for a total of $38.6 billion last May, seeking damages for what they said were public health costs for treating smoking-related diseases.

It was not clear why Lagos had decided to withdraw its case and its lawyers were not immediately available for comment.

“Take notice that the claimants hereby wholly discontinue this action against all the defendants in this suit,” the Lagos government said in a notice to a state High Court.

The cases were inspired by U.S. lawsuits in the 1990s that led to multibillion-dollar settlements by the tobacco industry.

The federal government is seeking to ban the sale of cigarettes to under 18s and curb advertising aimed at young people. It says tobacco should not be sold within a kilometre of facilities used by children such as playgrounds, schools, cinemas and hospitals.

The government has accused tobacco firms of targeting young smokers by promoting the sale of individual cigarettes, which it says reduces the effectiveness of mandatory health warnings printed on packets. (Reporting by Tume Ahemba; Editing by David Holmes)

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