05/30/2012 05:21 EDT | Updated 07/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Tobacco Companies Sued By Alberta In Lawsuit Worth $10 Billion-Dollars

EDMONTON - Alberta is joining the list of provinces suing tobacco manufacturers for the costs of caring for patients with smoking-related illnesses.

Premier Alison Redford announced the province will soon file a lawsuit seeking to recover $10 billion from tobacco companies for the estimated cost of caring for patients dating back to the 1950s.

"Each year approximately 3,000 Albertans die from tobacco-related illnesses," Redford said.

"This lawsuit, to be clear, is not about banning cigarettes or punishing smokers.

"It is about recovering health-care costs as a result of the misconduct of the tobacco industry."

Alberta will join British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador in filing lawsuits against tobacco manufacturers.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec are expected to file shortly.

B.C. was the first to file, almost 15 years ago. The cases have moved slowly through the courts, with numerous challenges and counter-challenges. None have reached resolution.

Alberta is only the second province to put a dollar figure on its damages. Ontario is suing for $50 billion. The other three have not named a final figure.

The tobacco companies are also fighting a $27-billion class-action civil suit in Quebec filed by smokers who say they became addicted or ill from smoking. That case is at the trial stage.

The tobacco companies have argued they are being unduly penalized by governments that regulate their behaviour and also share in the profits through tobacco taxes.

Alberta takes in an estimated $950 million a year in tobacco taxes.

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said while Alberta's taxation policy on cigarettes does indeed create revenue, it's in place to discourage smoking.

"Taxation of tobacco products is an important part of our government strategy to reduce tobacco use," said Horne.

"It's a disincentive and has been shown to be so through research, particularly among young people."

Opposition Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, a medical doctor, applauded the lawsuit and said it should have been done sooner.

"As a physician you see lots of young people, their smoking rates have gone up. You see a lot of people unnecessarily getting sick," said Sherman.

"When we know something is really bad and we can do something on the policy side, we should do it."

The province has been preparing the lawsuit for two years.

Last fall, Alberta sold off $17.5 million in directly managed stock in tobacco firms.

The roots of all the Canadian lawsuits reach back to the United States in the mid-1990s. At that time, four states sued tobacco companies to recover health costs, eventually leading to a $246-billion nationwide settlement.

Tobacco companies have argued the federal government, as the oversight body to the industry, is partly to blame and should therefore pay a share of any health costs. That argument has been rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Last month, the Canadian Cancer Society reported that lung cancer alone is expected to kill 1,600 Albertans this year. It says about 90 per cent of lung cancer cases are smoking-related.

An estimated one in five Albertans smoke, and 13 per cent of kids aged 12 to 19 are lighting up.

Earlier this year, Alberta passed a law banning smoking in cars when children are present.