Government suing smoke-makers

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Fourteen tobacco companies from around the world will be served a statement of claim by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador before the week is out.

Following suit with the government of British Columbia and other Canadian jurisdictions, N.L. is out to recover the costs of tobacco-related illnesses and uncover the false advertising of tobacco companies. They’ll be using the Tobacco Health Care Costs Recovery Act as their door opener.

The act, passed by the house of assembly in 2001, allows legal action against tobacco companies by permitting the province to sue them directly. By virtue of proclaiming the act, government is enabled to pursue the case on the basis of statistical evidence as opposed to individual cases.

“We haven’t got that figured out yet, but it will be a substantial amount.” —Felix Collins

Justice Minister Felix Collins says once all defendants are served, they expect feedback from them, before a defense is filed.

“They’ll probably serve a demand for particulars as to get more information, more meat on the bone, so to speak. We expect that from them.”

To this date, Collins says they have not received any information back from tobacco companies.

“They have a certain amount of time to respond and usually you don’t hold them to sharp dates. They will be getting back to us in the near future with respect to particulars.”

Expecting success

There have been several cases in the U.S., whereby government has successfully sued tobacco companies. One particular lawsuit led to a 50-state agreement in 1999, which resulted in the tobacco industry agreeing to pay $246 billion (USD) over a 25-year period.

In Canada there have also been situations where settlements have been reached with tobacco companies. The N.L. provincial government is hopeful their matter will be settled before they go to court as well. If not, Collins says it will likely be 2013 or later before the case makes it to a courtroom.

The amount of money government is seeking has not been specified. The statement of claim alleges the damages and the actual amounts of money will come out in the process.

“We haven’t got that figured out yet,” says Collins, “but it will be a substantial amount.”

In terms of immediate impact on the public, Collins says it might not be very much.

“But, if we can bring this to the fore, the fault at the damages the tobacco companies have done, and alleviate some of the problems we have, then that will benefit everybody.”