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South Australia mounts lawsuit against tobacco companies

South Australia is pushing for tobacco companies to compensate governments for the health costs. Source: Supplied

SOUTH Australia is spearheading a push to recoup billions of dollars spent on caring for sick smokers.

Health Minister John Hill put the proposal to a Ministerial Council meeting in Canberra on Friday and said he had received a positive response.

Mr Hill said Australia was well placed to force tobacco companies to compensate governments for the health costs associated with smoking over many decades.

A similar 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.

“I raised it with the other Ministers and we agreed that we would ask the Commonwealth to investigate a similar scheme here,” Mr Hill said.

“It costs taxpayers millions of dollars a year to look after smokers and it is a cost that is completely preventable, and I think we should be able to make a case in Australia, similar to the case in the US, where tobacco companies were forced to pay compensation to the states.”

The class action suggestion was raised in December last year by visiting US anti-tobacco campaigner Matthew Myers, who participated in negotiations which led to the US agreement. Mr Myers told the Federal Government a similar class action would have great prospects of success, given Australia’s common law principles which are based on English laws rather than those of the US.

Five Canadian provinces have recently filed similar law suits, a move which Mr Hill believed Australian authorities should follow.

“There seems to be a firm belief that if they can do this in America and Canada there is no reason why it could not happen in Australia,” Mr Hill said.

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