Canada appeals court orders tobacco firms to pay billions in damages

ONTARIO, Canada––A court in Canada has upheld a decision that ordered three tobacco companies to pay billions in damages.

According to reports, the judgment contains class action suits that were consolidated against Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans Benson & Hedges and JTI-MacDonald.

In 2015, the companies had appealed a ruling that ordered them to pay over C$15bn (£8.5bn; $11bn).

The plaintiffs in the case were Quebec smokers who said the firms failed to warn them of the health risks associated with smoking.

Lawyers for the embattled companies, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges said last week that they will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

One of main companies, JTI-Macdonald Corp said it “fundamentally disagrees” with the decision and is considering all options, including an appeal.

According to court records, the plaintiffs said the firms knew since the 1950s that their product was causing cancer and other illnesses and yet they failed to warn consumers.

Meanwhile, the companies had argued that Canadians have had a “high awareness” of smoking health risks for over half a century and say they have been strictly regulated.

The Quebec Court of Appeal sided on Friday with a lower court decision that inferred that the companies had failed to provide adequate information about the “safety defect” in their tobacco products.

Corporate and criminal defense attorneys say this is the largest award for damages in the country’s history and will include interest on those damages.

Court documents say that the two class-action lawsuits were originally filed in 1998 before they were consolidated.

In Canada over the years and in 2017 just under 17% of Canadians smoked at least occasionally.

Legal analysts say US courts, in recent years, have ordered tobacco companies to pay large awards. But those payouts are often reduced upon systemic appeal.

For example, a $28 bn (£18.3 bn) ruling against Philip Morris was reduced to $28m on appeal in 2011.

American tobacco firms agreed in 1998 to pay US states over $200 billion (£131 bn) in fines in what is the largest civil litigation suit in US history.

US states have been criticized for not spending enough of the compensation on anti-smoking programmes.

Analysts say the Canadian verdict could impact global lawsuits against tobacco companies. Africa countries and other nations in the Caribbean could file similar lawsuits.

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Blama G. Konuwah

Blama G. Konuwah resides in Vancouver, Canada. He is a public issues analyst and senior contributor to Globe Afrique.
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