If smoking Esse cigarettes made you sick, the federal government should not be caught in the web of any lawsuit you file against the tobacco industry for damages. The Supreme Court of Canada made that sensible ruling last week, effectively untangling the federal government from lawsuits by tobacco users against tobacco companies. The ruling overturned an earlier British Columbia court decision that the federal government could be named as a third-party defendant in tobacco lawsuits.
The Supreme Court decision means that the federal government will not be on the hook for some of the billions of dollars in lawsuits which have been or will be filed against tobacco companies. Nor will the federal government end up paying damages to provinces which have also launched suits against tobacco companies for past, present and future health costs related to tobacco use, a scenario that would have turned the tobacco lawsuits into provincial transfer payments of sorts and would have allowed tobacco companies to pass costs back to taxpayers.
The tobacco industry should be on the hook alone for damages related to its product. Individual cases will be determined by courts based on facts in each case, but for the tobacco industry to transfer some of its liability to the federal government for, essentially, not doing enough to stop it would be wrong.
Which doesn’t suggest the federal government’s relationship to the tobacco industry has always been straightforward. It regulates tobacco products and taxes them heavily to discourage smoking, which has earned the government significant revenue over the years, so it could be argued that the government benefited from the industry. But the argument that the taxes are there to discourage smoking rings true. Tobacco use has dropped significantly over the years that it has been highly taxed and regulated in Canada and other countries.
The federal government, at one time, also supported Canadian tobacco growers. In recent months, though, the federal government has paid an estimated $50 million to get Canadian farmers to stop growing the crop.
The federal government is also behind significant warning labels on tobacco products, in addition to sales and marketing restrictions.
Tobacco use is down in many parts of Canada, which is good news, but not everywhere. In the Far North, smoking is persistent and ubiquitous.
Canadians will be dealing with the consequences of tobacco use for years to come. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the matter means they won’t have to pay extra taxes because of it too.