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If the law favours Big Tobacco over taxpayers, then the law is a disgrace

Thanks to this upcoming £11bn lawsuit, we are about to find out whether the law values corporations over individuals

Do property rights trump the health, wellbeing and lives of millions of people? Around 100,000 Britons die of smoking-related illnesses every year: from cancer to heart disease. Worldwide, the figure is a startling 6 million annually. It’s doubtful that history will be particularly kind to those who profited from the tobacco industry. Our descendants will also undoubtedly find it astonishing that cigarettes were freely available, while possessing far less harmful and addictive substances could end in prison sentences.

With TTIP looming, this privileging of corporate interests over democracy is only about to get worse

Nonetheless, it is a matter of free will whether people choose to part with their money and buy cigarettes; but there’s rightly consensus that we should discourage people from taking up the habit, and inform consumers of the dire health implications. One such measure is the introduction of plain cigarette packaging – a policy that David Cameron’s successful spinmeister and tobacco lobbyist, Lynton Crosby, thankfully failed to block. But now the tobacco companies are fighting back, suing the government for up to £11bn on the basis that it would constitute “deprivation of a highly valuable intellectual property”.

This is an absurd example of how the law values property over people. Our government is democratically elected. Yes, that rightly means there have to be checks and balances, and policies must abide by the existing framework of the law. But if the law enables tobacco companies to extort £11bn from the government – money, ironically enough, that could be used to treat people suffering from tobacco-related illnesses – then the law is wrong. If the law does not value people’s lives and wellbeing over the rights of tobacco companies to make profit from cancer sticks, then the law is morally bankrupt.

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