NHS plans pounds 10bn law suit over smoking

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The Independent Online
HOSPITALS and health authorities may sue cigarette manufacturers for pounds 10bn to pay for treating smoking-related diseases, writes Marie Woolf, Political Correspondent. They have asked the boards of NHS trusts, which run hospitals, and local health authorities, which fund them, to give their views.

Documents seen by the Independent on Sunday show that lawyers have advised the body which represents the UK's hospitals and health authorities that they could win billions of pounds for such NHS treatment in the past six years. Recent lawsuits by 40 US states have recovered $206bn in healthcare costs from tobacco firms.

The step has been welcomed by anti-smoking campaigners. "Any company that wastes precious NHS resources because of its negligence and deceit must be made to pay up," said Clive Bates, director of Ash. "It's a new legal front against the tobacco firms ... that could take them for tens of billions in Britain."

The NHS Confederation plans more detailed legal inquiry on whether it could win in court. The cost of hiring top commercial lawyers for such an exercise would be around pounds 15,000. "We should be prepared to spend pounds 15,000," said Terry Hanafin, chief executive of Croydon health authority who sits on the NHS Confederation's tobacco working group. "It's worth it because it could bring in billions to help patients if we are successful. It's potentially a very big step. It's less than pounds 100 per health authority and trust."

The move follows the publication of a hard-hitting government White Paper entitled Smoking Kills, which set out policies to help people quit and to control tobacco advertising.