South Korea’s national health insurance body has filed a lawsuit against cigarette makers for over $50 million for causing smoking-related diseases that ran up the health care costs, Bloomberg reported today.
National Health Insurance Service, an affiliate of South Korea’s health ministry, is suing the country’s three major tobacco companies, KT&G Corp., Philip Morris International Inc. and British American Tobacco plc, for at least 53.7 billion won ($52 million). This is the first lawsuit filed against the tobacco industry by a South Korean government agency.
“It’s the duty of NHIS to take responsibility for people’s health and to manage insurance finances,” the agency said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.
NHIS revealed in January that it spends at least 1.7 trillion won a year on health care costs related to smoking.
In court, NHIS will have to prove the direct causal relationship between smoking and lung diseases.
“In terms of legal principles, this litigation is not different from a lawsuit that was recently rejected by the Supreme Court,” the Korea Tobacco Association told Bloomberg in an e-mailed statement. The statement referred to South Korea’s Supreme Court rejecting an appeal by a lung cancer patient and families of deceased lung cancer victims who sued KT&G and the South Korean government. The court ruled that there is no proof of a causal link between cancer and cigarettes because a combination of external and biological factors can also contribute.
But representatives of NHIS said they plan to reference studies and consult experts at international health agencies, including the World Health Organization, to prove the direct relationship between cigarettes and lung diseases.
KT&G is the dominant force in South Korea tobacco industry, with a market share of 62 percent, while Philip Morris and British American Tobacco have 19 percent and 13 percent, respectively.