The damages caused by tobacco smoking are apparently the reason South Korea's state health insurer is suing Philip Morris, the company behind the world's leading cigarette brand, Marlboro, and other tobacco companies.

South Korea's National Health Insurance Service announced on Monday that it is suing Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, the company behind Dunhill, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall and Kent, as well as KT&G Corp., the leading tobacco company in South Korea, for 53.7 billion won or roughly $51.9 million to cover the treatment costs for smoking-related diseases.

The amount was based on the agency's expenditures on patients who have smoked for more than 30 years before they were diagnosed with any of the two types of lung cancer and a throat cancer that are likely caused by smoking. NHIS earlier said that it spends more than $1.6 billion per year for the treatment of smoking-related diseases.

"We believe the NHIS, as it takes responsibility for the health of the public and oversees the insurance budget, has a natural duty to bring this tobacco lawsuit," said NHIS lawyer An Sun-young.

The move of the NHIS to sue the tobacco companies came days after the South Korean Supreme Court scrapped a 474.7 million won-damage suit filed against KT&G Corp. by 30 lung cancer patients who argued that their disease was caused by long years of smoking and that the cigarette company did not alert them of the dangers of smoking. The Supreme Court dismissed their arguments on the premise that it finds it hard to prove that tobacco caused the complainants' disease.

NHIS attorney Jung Mi-hwa said it was difficult to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between smoking and cancer because KT&G declined to disclose its manufacturing records. With the new case involving Philip Morris and BAT, however, Mi-hwa said that there is plenty of information that the two tobacco companies have disclosed in overseas lawsuits and the NHIS has sufficient medical data.

Smoking is associated with a number of unwanted health conditions. Smokers are known to have higher risks for lung cancer, kidney cancer, coronary disease, diabetes and stroke. Smoking is also attributed to more than 5 million deaths worldwide per year.

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