JEFFERSON CITY - Attorney General Jay Nixon urged Tuesday that lawmakers to pass a bill designed to force tobacco manufacturers to reimburse the state for Medicaid payments made for tobacco-related illnesses.
Nixon's office estimates those medical costs to be $100 million annually.
Citing the ongoing lawsuit against the tobacco industry and the recent settlement by 22 state attorneys general with the Liggett Group, Nixon - the leading Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate - told the House Judiciary Committee the bill would be an important element in successfully completing that lawsuit.
"This allows us to seek damages all at once, not smoker by smoker," Nixon said.
Nixon introduced Bennett LeBow, CEO of the Liggett Group's parent company. Reflecting the content of Liggett documents admitted in the settlement, LeBow stated cigarette manufacturers know smoking is addictive and causes health problems and that the industry targets children in its marketing.
A lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute, John Britton, agreed that smoking increases health risks, but did not say it directly causes them.
Rep. Don Lograsso, R-Blue Springs, accused Nixon of arriving late on the tobacco-settlement scene. "Missouri decided it would be a wonderful thing to jump in after (Liggett) settled with other states," he told LeBow.
Nixon said he has grown uncertain of whether a national settlement will be reached. "I'm hopeful but not encouraged." According to Nixon spokesman Scott Holste, states passing this type of legislation improve their chances of getting the case into court sooner should Congress fail to act on a federal level.
Bill Newbold, a lawyer representing the tobacco companies still involved in the suit, including Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds, described the bill as "unfair, unnecessary and unconstitutional."
In forcing reimbursements from the manufacturers, Newbold said, Missouri would not have to identify the Medicaid recipients, what brand they smoked, how much they smoked, and whether they were correctly diagnosed. "Statistical evidence is not admissible in the state of Missouri to prove causation."
"You can't change the law to let Nixon have a speedier and less costly trial," Newbold said. "You can't make laws that apply to only one industry. There's no due process if your hands are tied behind your back and there's a gag in your mouth."
Rep. Brian May, D-St. Louis, contests the idea that the industry can be singled out for legislation. "You're not legislating against an industry but the harm caused by it. It's a historically unique industry that had information (on the health risks) and intentionally failed to disclose it and in fact did the opposite."