Tobacco Companies Coming to Ontario Court

International tobacco companies will not be able to escape Ontario’s court battle for $50 billion. The province’s government won a very important victory when the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected the idea that the international parent companies of tobacco manufacturers should not be involved.

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The $50 billion suit was filed to seek damages for the healthcare costs of lung cancer patients over several decades. The claim alleges that manufacturing companies withheld information regarding the health risks of smoking, both from the government and the people, and knowingly marketed their products to young people.

“This is an important preliminary defeat… because the parent companies have a greater capacity to pay damages,” said Rob Cunningham, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Senior Policy Analyst.

Tobacco giants argued that Ontario doesn’t have the jurisdiction to create or enforce an order against them that results from litigation; they also complain that the claim against them is too ambiguous. Another argument is that the connection between the tobacco companies and the alleged harm caused in Ontario is too tenuous and that the claim isn’t specific when naming the responsible parties.

Justices Janet Simmons, David Doherty and Robert Blair don’t agree. They said there is a “good, arguable case” against the parent companies, noting the argument that there was a conspiracy among the parent companies and their subsidiaries in Canada to conceal the dangers of tobacco use and market the products as relatively harmless.

“We are satisfied that the pleadings, in combination with the affidavit evidence filed by the parties, adequately establish a cause of action known to law with a sufficient connection in Ontario,” the judges said.

The decision follows others made in courts in New Brunswick and British Columbia, and lawsuits have been filed by nine of the ten provinces, although none have made it to trial yet. The 10 provinces, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have all adopted legislation that allows for medicare expenses to be pursued through litigation against the tobacco industry.

Mr. Cunningham says that is essential that these cases advance to trial as quickly as possible.

“The tobacco industry cannot delay the inevitable forever,” he said. “For decades, the foreign parent tobacco companies directed subsidiary companies in Canada and around the world to publicly deny the health effects of smoking, to oppose stronger package warnings and to engage in a massive cover-up with deadly consequences.

“This case is not merely about just compensation for health care costs. The case is also about health, and reforming industry behaviour so that what occurred in the pase will not occur in the future. The lawsuit seeks compensation, justice, truth and health.”

Mr. Cunningham also noted that the parent companies of tobacco manufacturers are better equipped than their Canadian subsidiaries to pay the $50 billion that the Ontario government is seeking.