Magazine article State Legislatures

States Try to Recoup Health Costs of Smoking

Magazine article State Legislatures

States Try to Recoup Health Costs of Smoking

Article excerpt

States are going after the tobacco industry since the discovery that they are spending billions of dollars on patients with smoking-related illnesses.

Florida's $1.43 billion lawsuit started with a special act passed by the Legislature in 1995. Attorneys general in Mississippi, Massachusetts, Minnesota and West Virginia also are seeking damages. New Jersey introduced legislation in January that would allow it to sue tobacco companies to recover health care costs.

Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration maintains that the state has spent well over $1 billion in Medicaid funds since 1989 to treat citizens with smoking-related illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and lung disease. The Legislature's Medicaid Third Party Recovery Act seeks to recover those expenses from tobacco companies by changing state law to allow it to use statistical data as evidence without having to show direct cause, removing the comparative negligence defense and eliminating the statute of limitations.

In more than 800 lawsuits filed since 1954, juries have found that smokers should be held responsible for their decision to smoke. The Florida case, however, is based on nicotine's addictive properties, and therefore holds tobacco companies liable.

The law is embroiled in constitutional debate. Tobacco interests challenge it as an unconstitutional intrusion by the Legislature into judicial branch powers. State attorneys say the industry's constitutional defenses are not diminished because the state still must prove both liability and aggregate harm. …

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