2 Landmark Lawsuits Corner KT&G

KT&G has faced two unprecedented legal challenges that could force the country’s biggest tobacco company by sales volume to change its business practices. One is about health and the other is an environment-related dispute.

Gyeonggi governor Kim Moon-soo last week made a rare appearance at a courtroom in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, to testify that cigarette butts are a major culprit for fire outbreaks in the region.

Kim emphasized it was confirmed that nearly one out of 10 fire cases in the province was caused by a lit cigarette butt.

Gyeonggi filed a damages suit against KT&G in January last year, demanding 1 billion won in compensation for cigarette-related fire damages. The country’s largest local government argues that cigaretteĀ”?related fires cost it an estimated 79.4 billion won between 2005 and 2007.

“More than 12 percent of fire cases in the province were caused by cigarette butts,” the governor said. “The tobacco maker has been selling ‘fire-safe’ cigarettes in the U.S. since 2004.

“But it has continued to sell traditional products that lack proper safety protection in the domestic market, a major reason why KT&G is liable for financial compensation.”

Bae Keum-ja, the attorney leading Gyeonggi’s litigation, added, “We believe that KT&G is guilty of failing to provide safe goods on the local market while exporting fire-safe products overseas.”

The company refutes her allegation, saying the primary fault of a fire is with the smoker, not because of the product the smoker was using.

“Even lower-ignition cigarettes are not 100 percent fireproof,” said Kim Tae-hoon, KT&G spokesman.

Seoul and other provincial governments are taking a close look at the case, with all set to file a damages suit against the tobacco company if the verdict is in favor of the plaintiff.

According to a Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters report, nearly 21 percent of 1,400 fire outbreaks were caused by cigarette butts.

Another legal fight against KT&G was brought in 1999 by a group of lung cancer patients and distraught families who believe smoking is a direct cause of lung cancer.

The first ruling in 2007 recognized the cause-and-effect relationships between smoking and cancer, but did not hold the company liable for compensating the plaintiff, saying, “Smoking cannot be seen as the sole factor for the cancer.” The case is now pending at the Seoul High Court.

The plaintiff, also represented by the lawyer Bae, is now trying to overturn the verdict with a new finding that the company has used chemical addictives to make it harder for smokers to quit.

source: www.koreatimes.co.kr

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