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NEW YORK (Reuter, 3/96?) - A federal judge has ruled that the tobacco industry can appeal his decision granting class action status to a suit alleging cigarette companies concealed information that nicotine is addicting.

The case, which is pending in New Orleans, will be the nation's largest class action if it is upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

A class action is a lawsuit brought by representative members of a larger group of plaintiffs. A trial court must decide whether the group shares certain interests in law or fact before the suit can be certified as a class action.

U.S. District Judge Okla Jones on Monday granted a motion by Philip Morris, Inc. and other defendants asking that he allow an interim appeals court review on the matter of class certification before the whole case is decided.

Jones also granted a stay in all other proceedings in the case until the appeals court decides the matter. This means that plaintiffs' lawyers will not be able to run advertisments seeking claimants until the certification issue is resolved.

''This does not mean that the Court believes that its class certification decision is not firmly based on Fifth Circuit precedent,'' Jones said. ''The Court remains convinced of the propriety of this decision, as well as the soundness of its foundation.''

However he said he was allowing the review because there is a substantial difference of opinion as to whether the present case should be certified as a nationswide class for issues of liability and punitive damages.

Charles Wall, senior vice president and associate general counsel at Philip Morris, said he was pleased with the ruling.

"This case presents many important legal issues that will inevitably be decided by the Fifth Circuit and it makes sense to have these issues decided now before both sides embark on lengthy and costly pretrial proceedings and preparation," he said.

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