More States Plan to Sue For Costs Of Smoking

TWO months ago, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore announced a lawsuit against the tobacco industry to seek reimbursement for the state's medical expenses. Now, an increasing number of states are considering similar suits.

Attorneys General in West Virginia, Maryland, Utah, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Massachusetts have lawyers looking at filing suits to recover growing Medicaid expenses. On May 26, Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles (D) signed legislation allowing the state to sue on behalf of all Medicaid patients who smoke.

Yesterday, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R) signed a budget bill that includes a section allowing the state to sue the tobacco companies for health costs. ``The language was disappointing relative to what we proposed, but Attorney General Scott Harshbarger supports the concept,'' says Thomas Green, first assistant attorney general.

At a recent meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General, the suits were discussed informally.

Unlike some states that are considering specific legislation to allow the lawsuits, Mississippi used existing state laws. ``We are saying to the tobacco companies, pay your fair share of the costs,'' says Trey Bobinger, an attorney general spokesman.

On July 7, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported smoking-related illness costs the US about $50 billion a year. This is more than double the last estimate in 1988. About half of the expense is picked up by Medicare or Medicaid.

Philip Morris has filed pre-emptive constitutional challenges to the Florida law. And in Mississippi, lawyers for the defendants have brought a suit in federal court, arguing that there are federal law issues that must be resolved before the suit can continue in state court.

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