TORONTO - Ontario wants to become the latest province to sue tobacco companies to recover health-care expenses related to smoking illnesses.

"The human cost of smoking is immense, but so too is the financial cost," Attorney General Chris Bentley said in the legislature Wednesday as he introduced the bill.

"The health-care costs associated with smoking are more than $1.6 billion per year in the province, and almost 500,000 hospital days each year."

He's proposing a bill that would give the government the right to sue the companies directly for any alleged wrongdoing and allocate liability by market share.

It will also measure the health-care cost to taxpayers of tobacco-related illnesses, which Bentley called a "huge drain" on the health-care system.

Tobacco use accounts for the deaths of about 13,000 Ontarians each other, or 36 deaths per day, he said.

The $1.6 billion used to treat smoking-related illnesses would provide funding for eight large community hospitals or a year's funding for 2,000 MRI units, Bentley said.

Progressive Conservative critic Christine Elliott said she agrees with the principle behind the legislation, but wondered if this should be the government's top priority since any cost recovery will be years away.

British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have all passed similar legislation.

The McGuinty government has already banned smoking in vehicles with a child present, with a law aimed at protecting children under age 16 from the effects of second-hand smoke.

Smoking is also outlawed in Ontario workplaces and in public areas such as bars and restaurants.