09/22/2014 10:12 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:05 EDT

Historic Quebec lawsuit against cigarette makers back in court

Closing arguments in a historic class-action lawsuit against three tobacco companies begin today in Quebec Superior Court.

Two groups representing a total of about one million Quebec smokers are seeking $17.8-billion from Imperial Tobacco, JTI-MacDonald, and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges.

The lawsuit originally sought $27-billion and was deemed the largest class-action case in Canadian history.

The legal proceedings began in March 2012, 13 years after the class action was initiated by two groups representing Quebec smokers.

One group involves individuals who have become seriously ill from smoking, and members of the other group say they are unable to quit smoking.

The groups allege the companies:

- Failed to properly warn their customers about the dangers of smoking.

- Underestimated evidence relating to the harmful effects of tobacco.

- Engaged in unscrupulous marketing.

- Destroyed documents.

Cecilia Letourneau, lead plaintiff for Quebecers claiming they were unable to quit smoking, accused the companies of keeping her addicted.

“What I thought was my free choice was in fact programmed by an industry that wanted to keep me captive,” she said.

Jean-Yves Blais, who initiated the other lawsuit on behalf of smokers who developed serious illnesses, died in the summer of 2012 from lung cancer. He was 68.

Lawyers for the smokers have argued that the cigarette companies have a responsibility to consumers who developed serious illnesses from or addictions to their products.

The companies' lawyers argue the risks of smoking are well-known public facts.