Smoke Out

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: A recent string of good news for the tobacco industry ended when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a Florida law making it easier for the state to sue tobacco companies to recover Medicaid money spent on smoking-related illnesses. The decision allows Florida to proceed with a lawsuit to recoup the some $800 million the state estimates it has spent treating sick smokers since July 1994. At issue was a measure which prevents companies from arguing Medicaid patients are partially to blame for their illnesses, allows the state to bring a class action suit on behalf of the thousands of Medicaid patients suffering tobacco-related illnesses and permits the use of statistics which help finger tobacco as the cause of certain health problems. Tobacco companies say the law, the only one of its kind in the nation, violates the constitutional right of due process by giving the state rights an ordinary plaintiff would not have. Florida Governor Lawton Chiles said the Supreme Court's decision keeps intact a law which will help lead to justice in tobacco related cases. "I think this is the last constitutional hurdle that big tobacco is going to try to put in our way. So I think we're getting closer to the day of tobacco justice." Because the court declined to hear the case instead of making a ruling, Philip Morris attorney Gregory Little says the company plans on challenging the law again.