A $44 billion lawsuit brought by the Nigerian government against three tobacco companies has resumed at the Abuja federal court. The federal government is seeking damages for what is says were public health costs for treating smoking-related diseases. Gilbert da Costa has more for VOA in this report from Abuja.

As the court case got back underway, prosecutors told the court they were yet to serve legal papers on one of the defendants, Switzerland-based Philip Morris International.

The court subsequently granted a request by prosecutors to file notice of the case in newspapers in Switzerland before the next trial date in May.

Lead prosecutor Maryam Uwais says Nigeria plans to introduce stringent laws to protect children from exposure to cigarettes and a life of tobacco addiction. She insists tobacco companies should take responsibility for public health costs for treating smoking-related diseases.

"We are hoping that children will not be sold cigarettes all over the country. When children start smoking very early, by the time they realize that is it bad for them, they are already addicted," she said. "We are trying to make the tobacco companies aware of the devastating effect of their own products. If you create a mess, you have to clean it up. But they are reluctant to clean up the mess they are creating."

The case was inspired by U.S lawsuits in the 1990s that led to multibillion-dollar settlements with the tobacco industry.

The Nigerian states of Lagos, Kano and Gombe are pursuing their own lawsuits, in which they are seeking a total of $38 billion in damages.

Nigeria's most populous state, Lagos, says at least two people die each day from tobacco-related diseases in the state.

Lawyers representing British-American Tobacco Nigeria say the allegations were unsubstantiated and the litigation cannot be sustained.

Critics accuse the Nigerian government of seeking monetary compensation from the same companies that have been given tax breaks to expand their operations in the country.