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BRASILIA, May 22 (Reuters) - Brazil's solicitor general's office is suing the world's largest cigarette makers British American Tobacco Plc and Philip Morris International to recover the public health treatment costs of tobacco-related diseases over the last five years.
The office, known as the AGU, announced the landmark lawsuit late on Tuesday against the two multinational companies and their Brazilian subsidiaries.
The legal action seeks to recover the cost to Brazil's public health system for the treatment of patients for 26 illnesses related to smoking tobacco or coming into contact with cigarette smoke, the AGU said in a statement.
The value of the costs the government seeks to recover will be calculated at a later date, should it win the lawsuit filed in the southern city of Porto Alegre, the AGU said.
"Since the profit from this business is sent abroad, it is fair that these multinational companies pay for this responsibility they have left to Brazilian society," prosecutor Davi Bressler said in the statement.
The AGU said the companies through their subsidiaries, Souza Cruz Ltda, Philip Morris Brasil Industria e Comercio Ltda and Philip Morris Brasil SA, produce about 90 percent of the cigarettes sold in Brazil.
The lawsuit was heralded as historic by groups that advocate in favor of reducing tobacco consumption.
"The suit is the first of its kind for Brazil and a significant step toward holding the two major tobacco companies who do business in Brazil and their parent companies responsible for the enormous financial and health burdens caused by tobacco use," the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said.
Despite the advancements in tobacco control policies in Brazil, tobacco remains the country's leading cause of preventable death, the group said in a statement.
BAT and Philip Morris did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle, editing by G Crosse)