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Australia health minister accuses tobacco firms of smear

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's health minister accused big tobacco companies on Wednesday of using smear tactics against her in retaliation for the minority government's plans to introduce the world's toughest anti-smoking laws.

Nicola Roxon, who is forcing global tobacco firms to adopt plain, brand-less packaging for cigarettes, accused the tobacco lobby of trying to discredit her after letters were released showing she had asked cigarette companies to help fund her 2007 re-election.

"Obviously it's embarrassing for me because I am prosecuting this case very hard against tobacco companies, and obviously they are intent on trying to embarrass me," Roxon told Australian television.

"But it won't deter us from the policies that we are going to introduce, which will be a world first and which we hope will reduce the harms caused by tobacco," she said.

Australia is set to pass the world's most restrictive anti-smoking laws, to take effect from early next year, after opposition lawmakers dropped concerns and said they would back the plan, despite threats of tobacco industry legal action.

The letters, which Roxon now describes as a mistake given her party's ban on tobacco-lobby donations, had invited three Philip Morris executives to a A$1,500-a-table fundraiser in 2005 to support Roxon's re-election two years later.

At the time Roxon was the opposition attorney-general and went on to become health minister when Labor won power.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor)