SMOKING OUT A DEAL

BIG TOBACCO IS WILLING TO PAY BILLIONS IN EXCHANGE FOR IMMUNITY--BUT NOT EVERYBODY IS READY TO BUY

Look who's talking now. For four decades, tobacco giants Philip Morris (Marlboro) and R.J. Reynolds (Camel) have hotly denied that cigarettes cause illness and have successfully stubbed out every claim for damages brought against them. But the danger of suffocation from mushrooming lawsuits, rising political hostility and shareholder agitation have finally compelled the two companies to discuss a settlement. It was disclosed last week that the tobacco giants had begun complex negotiations with state attorneys general, private lawyers and antismoking advocates.

When they did, Philip Morris boss Geoffrey Bible and RJR chief Steven Goldstone, who attended the first meeting held near...

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