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Manitoba among 6 provinces to sue tobacco companies

05/31/2012 02:31 EDT | Updated 07/31/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba is suing the major tobacco companies to recover the costs of providing healthcare services for tobacco-related illness.

"Treating diseases caused by smoking has been an extraordinary burden on our health-care system and on Manitoba taxpayers," Justice Minister Andrew Swan announced Thursday in partnership with Health Minister Theresa Oswald.

"This lawsuit seeks to recover the costs the health-care system has incurred as a result of the tobacco industry's misrepresentations and deceptive practices."

A new Manitoba law clears the way for the litigation to proceed, Swan said, referring to the Manitoba Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act.

Manitoba is co-ordinating its efforts with the provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Defendants in the lawsuit include Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc., Philip Morris U.S.A. Inc., Philip Morris International Inc., JTI-Macdonald Corp., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco International Inc., Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. and British American Tobacco P.L.C.

"Our government is deeply concerned about the use of tobacco and second-hand smoke in our province and our primary focus is on supporting Manitobans who want to quit smoking, and preventing young Manitobans from taking up the habit in the first place," said Oswald.

"We are also quite concerned about the staggering cost of treating smoking-related illnesses in our health-care system and we believe these costs should be recovered from the tobacco industry."

The announcement comes on May 31, which the World Health Organization has declared as World No Tobacco Day.

This year's theme is tobacco industry interference, focusing on the need to counter the tobacco industry's attempts to undermine global tobacco control efforts.

"The tobacco industry continues to knowingly produce and promote a product that is highly addictive and extremely damaging to the health of its users," added Murray Gibson, executive director of the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance (MANTRA).

"They must be held accountable for the irresponsible way in which they have destroyed the health of individuals resulting in huge costs to the health-care system."

The Alberta government said Wednesday it will seek to recover $10 billion from tobacco companies to cover the estimated cost of caring for patients with smoking-related illnesses dating back to the 1950s.

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