Saudi sues cigarette importers on smoking ills

Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry has filed a $34 billion lawsuit against importers of cigarettes from international tobacco companies, including US firms, for costs of medical treatment of smoking-related illnesses, the first such action in the Arab world, the health minister said Tuesday. The lawsuit - seeking one of the world's biggest damage claims _ brings the tactic of tackling smoking through the courts for the first time to the Mideast, where smoking is chronic and governments have only just begun trying to reduce the habit. Health Minister Hamad al-Manie told The Associated Press that the suit is part of a stepped-up campaign anti-smoking campaign in the kingdom, which is a top tobacco importer and where cigarettes remain extremely cheap - $1.50 a pack. "It's a duty that we in the ministry have to perform," al-Manie said in an interview at his office.