State Supreme Court to Decide Smokers’ Rights Under State Law
The California Supreme Court voted unaminously last week to review whether a 1998 state law that allows smokers to sue tobacco companies over tobacco-related illnesses applies to those who became ill before the law took effect but were diagnosed afterward, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The case in question centers around Betty Jean Myers, a Tulare County woman who was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 1998 -- just months after the law took effect on Jan. 1 but a year after she quit smoking. After Myers sued several "major tobacco companies," a federal judge dismissed her complaint, but the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals "asked the state Supreme Court to decide whether the suit was allowed by California law." If the court agrees with the tobacco companies that the law should not cover illnesses that occurred from smoking before 1998, a $26.5 million verdict against Philip Morris and a $21.7 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris would be overturned.
In a separate action, the state Supreme Court unaminously rejected review of a lawsuit that accuses the Legislature of "illegally diverting $200 million from antitobacco education to health care for the poor during a five-year period in the early 1990s," the Chronicle reports. A 1988 voter initiative increased cigarette taxes by 25 cents a pack and called for 20% of the additional revenue to go toward antismoking programs. An advocacy group called Just Say No to Tobacco Dough filed the suit, alleging that legislation signed into law by Govs. George Deukmejian (R) and Pete Wilson (R) "cut education funding below 20% from 1989-90 through 1993-94." The ballot initiative allowed for legislative changes to the funding formula only if it "fit the goals" of the initiative (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.