Provinces to work together to fight tobacco industry: Quebec minister

Several provinces are planning to work together against tobacco companies to recover health-care costs related to smoking, says Quebec’s Health and Social Services Minister Yves Bolduc.

Quebec confirmed yesterday it is joining British Columbia, New Brunswick and Ontario in filing a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against tobacco manufacturers, and it’s only a matter of time before the provinces join forces to seek compensation, Mr. Bolduc said.

“First each province will launch their lawsuits. As for the strategy that will follow, there will be discussions among the different [provincial] governments,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Last week, Ontario announced it was launching a $50-billion lawsuit against three tobacco companies, Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., JTI-Macdonald Corp. and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc., to recover the cost of treating smoke-related illnesses dating back as far as 1955. Quebec said yesterday it still wasn’t ready to file its claim, but that a lawsuit was definitely pending. “We are committed to filing a lawsuit as soon as possible,” Mr. Bolduc said. “We believe we have a solid case.”

The provinces began to consider legal action after a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2005 that upheld a 1998 British Columbia law allowing the province to seek compensation against discount tobacco companies.

“Each provincial case will have their own particularities. Banding together could eventually be an option, but it’s still too early,” said Justice Ministry spokesperson Philippe Archambault.

Éric Gagnon, a spokesperson for Imperial Tobacco Canada, warned that the industry was prepared to dig in its heals for a lengthy fight.

“We are going to defend ourselves for as long as it takes. It lasted nine years in British Columbia, so it’s not going to be over any time soon.” Mr. Gagnon said yesterday, reiterating that the lawsuits were “sheer hypocrisy.”

Companies will argue that their industry was selling a legal product that was heavily regulated by governments that collected billions in tax revenues from the sale of tobacco. They intend to fight allegations made by some provinces, such as Quebec, that manufacturers deliberately spiked tobacco products with chemicals to make them even more addictive and concealed information from the government.

In 1998 U.S. tobacco manufacturers concluded an out-of-court “master settlement” with state governments agreeing to pay US$246-billion over 25 years to cover health care costs related to smoking. Canadian manufacturers aren’t planning to offer any such settlement.

“For us, we were selling a legal product,” Mr. Gagnon said. “So we are going to defend ourselves and there will be no out-of-court settlement.”

source:  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/

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