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May 1st, 2012:

National class action bid for Big Tobacco health bill

by: Michael Owen
From:The Australian
May 01, 201212:00AM

HEALTH Minister Tanya Plibersek will seek legal advice on a national
class action lawsuit against Big Tobacco to recover costs imposed on
health budgets by smoking-related diseases.

South Australian Health Minister John Hill yesterday said he had
proposed joint legal action during a health ministerial council meeting
in Canberra last Friday.

Mr Hill said all ministers “were pretty interested in doing it . . . The
commonwealth minister undertook to get some legal advice about the
strengths or otherwise of any potential action. We’ll get some advice
ourselves locally.

“I think everybody, and all the ministers, were of the view that if we
could do it then it would be a good thing.”

The Australian revealed in December that momentum was building among the
states for legal action, after Attorney-General Nicola Roxon arranged a
taxpayer-funded visit to Australia by US anti-smoking lobbyist Matthew
. .
Mr Myers is a lawyer who advised 50 US state attorneys-general in
lawsuits against Big Tobacco for smoking-related healthcare costs in the
late 1990s.

The class action in the US led to the major firms agreeing to the 1997
US Master Settlement Agreement in which tobacco companies agreed to pay
up to $200 billion compensation to states over 30 years.

Mr Hill said Australia could force tobacco companies to compensate
governments for the health costs tied to smoking.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said she was among the ministers who
had agreed to investigate the proposal to litigate against tobacco
companies. “The commonwealth minister agreed to write to the
commonwealth attorney-general for advice on this matter and circulate
the response to . . . health ministers,” Ms Skinner said. “The NSW
government has not sought legal advice.”

Tasmania Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne said, given that
tobacco-related harm costs Australia about $31bn a year, governments
should continue to find ways to limit smoking and reduce its impact on
the health system. “One way may be to make tobacco firms accountable for
the harm caused by tobacco-related disease,” she said.

A spokesman for Ms Roxon said the Attorney-General supported states
exploring legal options: “Any decision for the states to proceed in this
area are a matter for individual states.”

Mr Hill said he would seek written legal advice. “We wanted to get some
commonwealth views first . . . if we can do it on a collective basis
then it makes more sense,” he said.

British American Tobacco has accused the commonwealth of using threats
of a class action lawsuit by the states to distract attention from a
High Court battle on plain packaging.