The Canadian, French-speaking province of Quebec is setting a new example in accountability of tobacco companies, after one judge ordered three major cigarette companies to payout $15 billion ($12 billion American) to smokers. This is considered to be the biggest class-action lawsuit that ever occurred in Canada.
Tobacco Companies Ordered to Pay $15 Billion
The tobacco companies that were ordered to shell out money included Imperial Tobacco Canada, which payed out $10.5 billion, Rothman’s Benson and Hedges, which payed out $3.1 billion and Japan Tobacco International Macdonald, which payed out $2 billion.
The lawsuit against these tobacco companies began with just two people, Cecilia Letourneau and Jean-Yves Blais. Blais died of lung cancer in 2012, the same year that the court case officially began.
“When my husband started smoking in the 1950s at the age of 10 he didn’t know the risks linked to cigarettes,” Lise Blais, his widow, said in a press statement. “He tried several times to stop smoking but never succeeded.”
Since then, thousands of other Quebec smokers had joined the case. The court heard from 78 witnesses and looked at over 43,000 documents.
Tobacco companies tried to convince the court that Quebec citizens were aware of the dangers of smoking by citing a poll which claimed that 96% of Canadians knew about the health risks associated with tobacco use.
However, François Damphousse, Quebec director of the Non-Smoker’s Rights Association, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that there was evidence proving tobacco companies covered up this information from the Canadian public.
“What these historians miss is all the coverage that came out in the media about how the industry was involved in a conspiracy to hide all that information,” Damphousse said. “They knew about the health effects of their products, but they didn’t meet the obligation to inform their public about what they knew.”
Bruce Johnston, one of the lawyers working with a firm that took on the tobacco company, says that this is a landmark case in terms of both public justice and health, stating that the ruling was “historic – not just for the compensation for victims but also for public health and accountability.”
This is the first settlement in a string of multiple lawsuits being faced by various tobacco companies across Canada.
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