Minnesota and the state's Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan last week sued the nation's tobacco industry to recover billions of dollars they say taxpayers have paid in smoking-related healthcare costs.
"For four decades, the tobacco cartel has engaged in a malicious conspiracy of fraud and deception designed to peddle an addictive, killer product to the American public," said state Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III.
The lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District court accuses the tobacco industry of conspiracy, fraud and antitrust violations. Mr. Humphrey said it's the first state lawsuit to allege an antitrust conspiracy and consumer fraud against tobacco companies.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield said it is the first corporate health services buyer to sue the tobacco industry over smoking-related issues.
The Tobacco Institute referred calls to co-defendants Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. Both said they would fight the lawsuit.
Mr. Humphrey said the tobacco industry promised the public it would help discover the truth about the health effects of smoking, then lied for 40 years. The industry should bear the costs of that deception, he said.
The lawsuit seeks to recover an unspecified amount of damages the state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield say they paid to cover treatment of smoking-related diseases.
State officials estimate more than $350 million is spent annually in Minnesota to pay the healthcare expenses for cigarette-caused death and disease.
The state hopes to recover a still-to-be-determined amount of money it spent through welfare and other public assistance programs and through state employee health plans.
In a lawsuit filed in May, Mississippi became the first state to ask the tobacco industry to reimburse it for money spent treating illnesses caused by smoking.