On September 25, 2006, Federal Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York ruled that a class-action suit against the major tobacco companies can go forward. The suit, brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act, will argue that the tobacco industry conspired to keep smokers ignorant of the fact that there is no difference in disease rates for "light" or "low tar" cigarettes and regular cigarettes. And that constitutes fraud.

The ruling is a relief to me ... and not because I'm an ex-smoker who was conned into choosing "light" brands, but because I sat on a jury in a tobacco case before the same judge (and with the same lead defense attorney) not quite six years ago.

We ended up as a hung jury. Though I did not believe that the tobacco companies could have been held liable in that particular case, I did feel that we had seen signs of malfeasance. This case may address them.

The case before us, brought by the Manville Trust, alleged that the tobacco companies had conspired to keep information away from smokers that would have lead them to quit.

The Trust, which tries to cover the expenses of disease caused by asbestos at Manville plants, claimed that the synergy between tobacco and asbestos raised the amount of disease, and that the tobacco companies should have to pay for part of that -- if they broke the law by hiding information. If they committed fraud.