A federal judge today cleared the way for what could become a historic, industry-breaking class action lawsuit against American tobacco makers. The suit charges that top tobacco firms knew nicotine was addictive and manipulated itslevels in cigarettesto keep customers hooked. U.S. District Judge Okla Jones certified the suit, filed by a smoker's widow and three current smokers in New Orleans, as a class action, which means that anyone in the country who has failed to quit despite a doctor's warning that smoking is unhealthy may join the suit. Defendants include American Tobacco, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Liggett. R.J. Reynolds responded that the judge's decision violated the rules governing class action lawsuits and would place "an unwieldy burden" on the courts. But John Banzhaf, executive director of the national anti-smoking organization Action on Smoking and Health, toldTIME law reporter Andrea Sachsthat the lawsuit "could be the beginning of the end for the tobacco industry as we know it" because of potential costs in the billions. Although it is not the first class-action suit against the industry, Banzhaf says it is the first in the federal court system, with jurisdiction over the entire country.