The Singing Tobacco Executive

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MIAMI: Bennett LeBow has coughed up another one of tobacco's dirty little secrets. The owner of the Liggett Group (Chesterfields, L&M, Lark, Eve), who was the first industry leader to admit to tobacco's ills when he crossed the party line in March, says he had been thinking about going public for years, and that $10 million a year from big brother Philip Morris helped keep him quiet. In 1995, with tobacco companies embroiled in a massive suit with state attorneys general, Philip Morris came knocking on the door of his financially troubled company. The larger firm said it would generously help out with Liggett's legal bills if LeBow would keep his restless conscience out of court. Philip Morris "didn't pay his bills out of the goodness of their heart," charged attorney Stanley Rosenblatt, who is representing flight attendants suing the tobacco industry over second-hand smoking ills suffered in airplanes. "That was a means of buying his silence and his cooperation so he would not be a spokesman for the opposite position." LeBow didn't disagree. "We accepted it for a while, but they canceled after about five, six months," he testified. During an often blunt-spoken 90 minutes of testimony, LeBow wasn't asked why Philip Morris stopped subsidizing him. Perhaps they saw no motive for LeBow to speak out. Perhaps they should have kept paying.