Florida attorney general goes after 2 tobacco companies

- Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Wednesday sued two tobacco companies that she says are failing to pay millions owed to the state as part of a landmark settlement.

Bondi's office, which filed the lawsuit in Palm Beach County, asserts that the state is already owed $45 million and could lose $30 million a year going forward.

Nearly two decades ago, several of the nation's largest tobacco companies negotiated a multibillion-dollar settlement with Florida to compensate the state for treating sick smokers. The state is projected to receive nearly $356 million this current budget year in settlement payments.

The lawsuit contends that after R.J. Reynolds sold the cigarette brands of Winston, Kool and Salem to ITG Brands, both companies refused to make payments related to those brands. ITG Brands, the U.S. subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, acquired the brands when Reynolds and Lorillard merged in 2015.

"The sale of major, pre-existing tobacco brands to another company for billions of dollars does not cause the payment obligations to vanish like a puff of smoke," said Bondi in a statement. "I look forward to the state obtaining prompt relief."

Florida filed its lawsuit a day after British American Tobacco announced that it is taking over Reynolds American in a $49 billion deal.

Neither Reynolds nor ITG Brands responded to phone calls requesting comment.

Pushed by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles, Florida was one of the first states in the U.S. to seek damages from tobacco companies. The state's initial lawsuit sought reimbursement for Medicaid costs in the past and the future and contended that tobacco companies had engaged in unlawful actions and misleading advertising.

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