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Alberta officially files $10B tobacco lawsuit

EDMONTON – Alberta officially sued big tobacco for $10 billion Friday, following through on a promise made last month to launch one of the province’s largest-ever legal actions.

The lawsuit, filed in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary, is meant to recover the estimated costs of delivering health care to Albertans who smoked or chewed tobacco.

The 35-page statement of claim lists “breaches of duty” such as “deliberately designing tobacco products to be highly addictive,” “deceiving Albertans” by misrepresenting the extent to which tobacco products are addictive, minimizing the dangers of second-hand smoke, presenting certain products as less harmful, and specifically targeting children and teenagers as potential customers. Among the breaches of duty, the lawsuit charges companies have been responsible for “concocting and perpetuating a fallacious controversy as to whether there was a real health risk.”

The defendants have not yet filed statements of defence.

The provincial government’s statement of claim lays out historic “particulars of conspiracy,” which include meetings that took place and publications and letters issued in the early 1950s, all of which contributed to an argument that cigarette smoke was not a proven cause of lung cancer. The historic case speaks further to work done internationally and in Canada throughout the latter half of the 20th century to muddy the science around the health effects of smoking and second-hand smoke.

To argue tobacco organizations should be responsible for paying back health care service costs, the province lists a number of tobacco-related diseases, including lung cancer, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, bladder cancer, throat cancer, kidney cancer, mouth cancer, pancreatic cancer, cataracts, low bone density, reduced fertility, stomach cancer, uterine and cervical cancer, liver cancer, and “overall diminished health and increased risk of morbidity and mortality.”

According to the statement of claim, “Albertans exposed to tobacco products would not have been exposed … or at least not to the same extent” had companies not misrepresented the dangers of tobacco use.

Quebec announced its own $60-billion lawsuit Friday, basing its estimates on the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses from 1970 through to 2030.

Five other provinces have filed similar lawsuits — British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Manitoba.

Phone calls to the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council, Imperial Tobacco and JTI-MacDonald were not returned Friday afternoon.

In a statement issued Friday, Imperial Tobacco vice-president Donald McCarty characterized Quebec’s lawsuit as a hypocritical cash grab.

“Governments have licensed us, have taxed us and our consumers, and have regulated us, all in full knowledge of the risks associated with tobacco use,” McCarty said. “This lawsuit is a cash grab by a provincial government looking to score political points while conveniently forgetting that it has been a senior partner in the tobacco industry for decades.”

The statement said provincial governments have made more money in taxes than the companies themselves have earned, and called the lawsuit a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Fourteen defendants are named in the lawsuit, including: the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council, Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., Canadian JTI-MacDonald Corp., Toronto-based Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc.; U.S.-based companies Altria Group, Philip Morris International, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; and United Kingdom-based British American Tobacco and Carreras Rothmans Ltd.

Click here to read the lawsuit.

With files from The Canadian Press

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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