POLITICS

Provinces' Tobacco Lawsuit Heats Up, As Legal Teams Seek To Recover Health Costs

03/09/2012 06:01 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT
AFP
VICTORIA - British Columbia and five other provinces are teaming up to sue Canadian tobacco firms for health-care costs.

B.C., New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island are retaining a national legal team to help them prosecute Canadian tobacco companies.

An official in B.C.'s Justice Ministry said Friday the provinces are looking to save costs and add clout to their cases by working together.

The statements of claims — where the province's are seeking recovery of billions of dollars worth of health costs associated with smoking illnesses and cancers — are similar, said the official.

He said the provincial governments also believe that because of the many common elements of the claims, combining forces with other provinces and co-ordinating legal resources will bring their cases to trial faster.

Every Canadian province and Nunavut have adopted legislation that seeks recovery of medicare costs against the tobacco industry, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Earlier this year, Ontario filed a lawsuit against Canadian tobacco companies seeking $50-million in damages.

Fourteen years ago, B.C.'s former New Democrat government became the first in Canada to attempt to sue tobacco companies, but the lawsuit was rejected by the courts as too broad.

Eight years ago, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled the B.C. Liberal government's Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act is constitutionally valid legislation, paving the way for a lawsuit that seeks to recover $10 billion in health-care costs from tobacco companies.

In 1999 in the United States, the tobacco industry agreed to pay $246 billion over a 25-year period for health-care costs that resulted from the use of its products.

The Canadian Cancer Society reports that tobacco products are the leading preventable cause of disease and death in Canada, killing 37,000 Canadians annually. It says tobacco products are responsible for about 30 per cent of cancer deaths and for 85 per cent of lung cancers.

Lung cancer kills more than 20,000 Canadians a year.

The B.C. government lawsuit alleges tobacco manufacturers failed to warn consumers of the dangers of smoking and targeted children in their advertising and marketing.

The suit said tobacco companies should be held liable for the tobacco-related illnesses that cost British Columbia an estimated $500 million a year in health costs.

Tobacco companies have responded previously to the B.C. lawsuit, saying the government is in danger of spending millions of dollars on a lawsuit, but not receiving any money if it wins.

Canadian tobacco companies can't afford to pay huge legal settlements, said the industry. The Canadian companies can't withstand settlements anywhere near the magnitude of their U.S. counterparts, who have been ordered to pay hundreds of millions, said the industry.

B.C.'s lawsuit names Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans, Benson and Hedges, JTI-Macdonald, the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council and several foreign tobacco companies.

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