The punch-drunk tobacco industry has been dealt yet another blow as the Canadian province of Ontario is the latest administration to proceed with a lawsuit to recoup money for smoking-related illnesses. Both the government and the Canadian Cancer Society say that a successful lawsuit could serve to reduce smoking in Ontario and make for less need to spend health-care money on smoking related illnesses. The lawsuit targets multiple tobacco companies, both British and American, and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has said the suit may go ahead.
In September of 2009 Ontario’s government announced it was going to sue under legislation it had passed called the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act “for past and ongoing health-care costs linked to tobacco-related illness.” The tobacco companies argued in their own suit against the province that they could not legally do so. Madam Justice Barbara Conway of the superior court says that they can. Her judgement has been hailed by the Canadian Cancer Society.
“This judgment by the Ontario court is very similar to earlier judgments by the courts in British Columbia and New Brunswick on the same issue,” Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst for the society, told CBC News. “It’s a big win for the Ontario government. It’s a big defeat for the tobacco industry.”
Cunningham said there will be benefits for Ontario in pursuing the suit beyond any settlement. He told CTV News the trial may force companies to reveal marketing strategies and who they targeted and how they created false impressions of the dangers of smoking. Pursuing the suit, Cunningham said, will bring “substantial benefits to the taxpayer and public health.”
The province will claim tobacco companies knew their product’s dangers and misrepresented them. Tobacco companies for decades denied smoking was dangerous or caused cancer. Many courts around the world have not accepted that claim and tobacco companies have been made to pay large sums to individuals and governments in past lawsuits.
As lawsuits increase and anti-smoking campaigns influence smokers and the rate of smoking in developed countries drop, tobacco companies have stepped up marketing campaigns in developing countries. Amanda Sanford of a group Action on Smoking and Health, told BBC News Online that the rise of smoking in developing countries “…stems back to the actions of the tobacco companies. They are aggressively marketing their products to developing countries.”