Canadian government freed from lawsuits against tobacco companies

16:48, July 30, 2011      

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The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday that the federal government is not legally responsible for the health damage caused by cigarette smoking.

The court rules that cigarette companies cannot drag the national government into large lawsuits filed by smokers demanding billions of dollars from tobacco companies for selling a dangerous, addictive product. Those cases, filed in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, have not yet been heard by the courts.

The smokers say warning labels on "light" and "mild" cigarette packages that disclosed the nicotine and tar levels did not say there are other chemicals in cigarette smoke that damage health. They want their money back, plus extra cash for damages.

Another case working its way through the courts requires tobacco companies to compensate the government of the province of British Columbia for the cost of health care for people who suffer from smoking-related diseases.

Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., a large tobacco company that has billions of dollars worth of retail holdings and subsidiary companies in Canada, along with several smaller companies, asked the Supreme Court of Canada to make the federal government a third party in the lawsuits, leaving it open to being forced to pay billions of dollars if the smokers'groups win.

The Supreme Court rejected all of the arguments put forward by the tobacco companies.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq issued a statement Friday afternoon saying "The Government of Canada is pleased with today' s Supreme Court of Canada decision. The Court's unanimous decision makes it clear that Canadian taxpayers will not be liable for the claims made against tobacco companies in the cases of Knight and BC Health Care Cost Recovery."

"Canada is considered a world leader in tobacco control through initiatives such as the government of Canada's Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed At Youth Act. This government will continue to take action to reduce smoking in Canada and prevent youth from starting to smoke, through efforts such as the proposed new, larger health warning messages on cigarette and little cigar packages," she said.

Donald McCarty, vice-president of law at Imperial Tobacco issued a statement saying it is not happy with the court decision, which cannot be appealed.

"Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided that the federal government is not accountable for its decisions and actions," said Donald McCarty. "We nonetheless intend to set the record straight and believe it is important for the government of Canada to answer for its long and sustained involvement in the tobacco industry."

"The federal government has known about the risks associated with smoking for decades and they have instigated and promoted the development and sale of 'light and mild' products in Canada. It is astounding that the government of Canada can step away from its responsibilities and leave tobacco producers to bear the full brunt of these allegations, when it has been fully complicit in all aspects of the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products for decades," he said.

Rob Cunningham, spokesman for the Canadian Cancer Society, said he was happy with the court's decision.

"The tobacco industry received a very significant defeat today at the hands of the Supreme Court. The tobacco industry has caused a tobacco epidemic through their wrongful behavior over many decades and it's the tobacco industry that should pay the damages," he said.

"We need some health reforms so that the behavior of the tobacco industry in the future does not repeat what has occurred in the past," Cunningham said.

Source: Xinhua
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