NHIS maps out tobacco suit

By Lee Hyun-jeong
  • Published : Mar 24, 2014 - 21:25
  • Updated : Mar 24, 2014 - 21:25
South Korea’s health authorities on Monday mapped out their plan for staging a legal battle against tobacco firms to recoup rising health costs from smoking-related diseases.

The state-run National Health Insurance Service released six possible options for the tobacco lawsuit, seeking compensation ranging from 54 billion won ($50 million) to 330 billion won depending on the smoking history of patients with larynx cancer or lung cancer.

“The final plan will be settled no later than Tuesday,” said an NHIS official. The insurance agency is also set to seek a legal representative starting this week and the formal suit could be filed next month.

If the legal action goes forward, this will mark the first case in which a public office seeks legal action against tobacco makers, including foreign companies. There are four major cigarette makers in Korea: KT&G, Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International.

The health agency announced a legal offensive against cigarette makers last year to recover the rising medical costs of smoking-related diseases. Its board members approved of the tobacco lawsuit in January with a majority in favor.

According to the insurance agency’s report, the NHIS spent about 1.7 trillion won on treating those with smoking-related diseases, which accounted for 3.7 percent of the total insurance costs for all illnesses.

Whether the agency will win the case remains uncertain. Some individuals filed lawsuits against the tobacco industry in the past but local courts ruled that the companies could not be asked to take full accountability for health issues.

The agency may face difficulties in proving why cigarette makers should be accountable for medical costs for smoking-related diseases, observers said. 

By Lee Hyun-jeong (