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State to back fight with Big Tobacco on health costs

Matthew Myers, anti-smoking lobbyist

Matthew Myers, anti-smoking lobbyist. Picture: James Croucher Source: The Australian

Nicola Roxon cigarette packets

Nicola Roxon with the proposed plain cigarette pack. Picture: Alan Pryke Source: The Australian

MOMENTUM is building among the states for legal action against Big Tobacco to recover costs imposed on health budgets by smoking-related diseases.

South Australia yesterday called on new Attorney-General Nicola Roxon to lead the charge.

But British American Tobacco accused the former health minister of a stunt in bringing to Australia anti-smoking lobbyist Matthew Myers to stir up the states and distract attention from a High Court battle over plain packaging laws.

South Australian Health Minister John Hill yesterday met with Mr Myers, a lawyer who advised 50 US state attorneys-general in lawsuits against Big Tobacco for smoking-related healthcare costs in the late 1990s.

Mr Myers, who this week also met the NSW and Victorian governments, impressed Mr Hill, who said South Australia would back the real possibility of individual suits or a class action by states against tobacco companies.

Mr Hill said Ms Roxon, as the new attorney-general, would be expected to take a leadership role in bringing other states on board for any legal action.

“I think legal action is worth exploring,” he told The Australian yesterday.

“The reality for us is we know that one in two people who are long-term smokers are going to die from smoking, and lung cancers for example cost the health system buckets of money, so why shouldn’t those who cause this be responsible for paying for it?

“Australia is not that different from America in common law.

“If you can make the connection between smoking and related diseases, and if tobacco companies are prepared to compensate in another jurisdiction,” legal action should be considered.

South Australia would be prepared to offer resources in any legal fight, he said.

Ms Roxon yesterday refused to answer questions about the cost to taxpayers of bringing Mr Myers to Australia, referring The Australian to the Health Department.

A department spokeswoman said: “Minister Roxon invited Mr Myers to Australia at a time when tobacco companies are bringing litigation against the Australian government, to share his extensive experience in tobacco-related litigation with the Australian government and with interested state and territory governments.”

It is understood that it is too early to know the full costs of Mr Myers’ taxpayer funded trip.

A spokeswoman for Ms Roxon said the minister was “heartened by the support of such an esteemed anti-tobacco expert”.

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