Lawsuits Against the Tobacco Industry - About Much More Than Money

MONTREAL, Nov. 3 /CNW Telbec/ - Across Canada, provinces are taking steps to hold the tobacco industry accountable for decades of destructive behaviour through health care cost-recovery lawsuits. Eight provinces have already passed legislation permitting legal action, and of those British Columbia, New Brunswick and Ontario have filed suits with Quebec indicating it is also prepared to join them.

While compensation for health costs incurred by governments and taxpayers is a factor behind these suits, delegates at the 6th Annual National Conference on Tobacco or Health are learning that this is about much more than just money.

"It is about far more than dollars and cents," said Michael Perley, executive director, Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco. According to Perley and other public health advocates, there are four pillars to cost-recovery lawsuits, including:

    
    Justice: holding the tobacco industry accountable for decades of
    unethical and destructive behaviour;

    Truth: revealing tobacco industry documents previously sealed and
    bringing light to countless lies and deceptive tactics;

    Health: admitting the true risks of tobacco products and changing
    industry behaviour;

    Compensation: recovering costs previously borne by government and
    taxpayers.
    

"There is an opportunity to see the biggest public health campaign come out of any settlement or judgment against the multi-national tobacco companies," continued Perley. "But to achieve this, governments need to involve public health in every step of the process."

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society, discussed what was learned from the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) involving 50 U.S. states and tobacco companies and why public health needs to be involved in any Canadian settlements.

"The MSA brought in US$245-billion over 25 years, restricted tobacco advertising and marketing, revealed previously concealed company documents, and dissolved industry-funded research organizations," said Cunningham. "Critics of the agreement believe that more of the settlement money should have been allocated to anti-smoking measures, while others believe the overall agreement was too lenient on tobacco companies."

For instance, the tobacco industry successfully lobbied to keep a "look back" provision out of the MSA. This provision would have made tobacco companies responsible for youth smoking rates, leading to penalties if those rates were not declining.

"Based on what we have learned from the U.S. example, we believe any settlements or judgments in Canada would be much stronger and more beneficial to Canadians if public health is involved in every step of the process," continued Cunningham. "We need to ensure that all four pillars are covered, not simply compensation. These lawsuits are an important component of an overall comprehensive strategy for tobacco control in Canada."

It is important to remember that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Canada. 37,000 Canadians die every year due to tobacco-related illnesses.

SOURCE National Conference on Tobacco or Health (NCTH)

For further information: For further information: To arrange interviews with Michael Perley, Rob Cunningham or Doug Blanke (U.S. Litigation expert), please contact: Conference media room, (514) 879-6822; French media, Éric Normandeau, (514) 254-0195; English media, Matt Drennan-Scace, (416) 471-8475

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National Conference on Tobacco or Health (NCTH)

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CANADIAN COUNCIL FOR TOBACCO CONTROL

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