Millions of people believe from their personal experience an

Millions of people believe from their personal experience and direct involvement with the illnesses of others that tobacco use harms health and can cause fatal illnesses.

Tobacco companies for years have denied those claims with the fury of a cornered predator. None ever had intimated, until Wednesday, that any of the lawsuits filed against them claiming harm in the use of their products had any merit. The intimation came Wednesday from the Liggett Group. Liggett is one of the smaller players in a huge industry, but it agreed to settle with those suing it in a Louisiana federal court lawsuit in exchange for being dropped from the lawsuit as it continues with larger tobacco companies as defendants. The lawsuit, known as the Castano case, involves about 60 law firms suing major tobacco companies on behalf of every smoker or former smoker claiming addiction. Such lawsuits are called class actions.

Liggett’s action, roundly criticized by fellow defendant companies, fairly shouted for the world to hear that big tobacco companies aren’t invincible or blameless for what their products do to people. Liggett’s settlement in Louisiana, while it may turn out to be monetarily small in relative terms, would be spent to help people stop smoking. There’s no admission of guilt in the still-pending settlement, but agreeing to help people stop smoking amounts to a tacit admission that tobacco use, at the least, is addictive.

Liggett’s settlement bears directly on a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Mike Moore in behalf of Mississippi citizens. That lawsuit seeks to recover from tobacco companies millions of taxpayers’ Medicaid dollars spent treating poor people for illnesses related to using tobacco products.

Moore, other attorneys general, and our nation’s leading public health officials believe that tobacco companies have been lying through their teeth in denying knowledge about the harmful effects of tobacco use. Ligett’s agreement to settle lends credibility to the claims of officials like Moore.

Moore, who has been ridiculed and countersued by Gov. Kirk Fordice for filing the Mississippi lawsuit, said Thursday he is working toward a similar but stronger settlement. Mississippi, Florida, West Virginia, Minnesota and Massachusetts all are suing tobacco companies for recovery of Medicaid funds.

None of the lawsuits would prohibit the sale of tobacco products or prohibit using them. The lawsuits would make honest corporate citizens of the tobacoo companies. Their continuing denials and stonewalling about the facts of tobacco use defy what independent medical science and common sense both know to be true. Tobacco addiction is the root of a major public health problem, and the truth can help resolve it.

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