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September 29th, 2009:

Ontario files CAD 50 billion suit versus tobacco companies

The Canadian province of Ontario said Tuesday it has filed a lawsuit seeking CAD 50 billion (USD 45.9 billion) in damages from tobacco companies for healthcare costs incurred by taxpayers since 1955.

In doing so, Ontario became the third of Canada’s ten provinces to sue the country’s tobacco manufacturers, all of which are units of foreign tobacco makers, including Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco. The lawsuit by Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, was planned under legislation passed by its legislature earlier this year, and seeks damages for past and ongoing healthcare costs. Ontario says tobacco use costs the province CAD 1.6 billion a year for healthcare and causes about 13,000 deaths annually. It said smoking is the province’s number one cause of illness and premature death.

The legislation allows Ontario to directly sue tobacco companies for alleged wrongdoing and allocates liability among tobacco companies by market share. A spokesman for Imperial Tobacco Canada, Canada’s leading tobacco company and a wholly owned unit of British American Tobacco, said the Ontario lawsuit made no sense, given that the product is legal, regulated, and taxed by the government. (pi)

`Stinky’ taunts push students to kick smokes

Beatrice Siu, The Standard

The number of secondary school students who smoke has fallen dramatically, a study spanning 14 years has revealed.

The University of Hong Kong, which carried out five surveys between 1994 and last year, said the percentage of smoking students peaked in 1999 when it stood at 12.7 percent, falling to 6.9 percent last year.

The smoking rate was based on the number of Secondary One to Five students who had smoked in the 30 days prior to being surveyed. Hong Kong’s 53 percent fall compares favorably with 45 percent in a similar survey in the United States.

Also, the total number of students who had smoked a cigarette, including first-timers and quitters, fell from 28 percent in 1999 to 15.8 percent last year.

HKU department of community medicine assistant professor Daniel Ho Sai-yin said the drop was due to strengthened tobacco control measures introduced in 2007 and the ban on tobacco advertising in 1999.

HKU says the total number of Secondary One to Five smokers is 33,287. “Although the research results indicated that there is a substantial drop in the smoking rate among Secondary One to Five students over the past 10 years, it was still high at 6.9 percent last year,” Ho said.

“This implies the tobacco control policies should be further strengthened in order to reduce the harm which smoking can do to the younger generation.”

The surveys also showed another reason why students were prepared to give up smoking – they were described as “stinky” by classmates.

Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health chairwoman Lisa Lau Man-man suggested the government further increases tobacco taxes to deter youngsters.

HKU School of Public Health director Lam Tai-hing warned that active smoking kills 5,000 to 6,000 people each year and about 1,000 people die from secondhand smoke.

He also said that smoking bans are never enough.

“The government has strengthened the legislation on smoking bans but there are still loopholes,” Lam said.

For example, bar managers will not be prosecuted even if they allow customers to smoke in the premises.”

Gradual fall in number of teens smoking – Researchers credit smoking ban, rise in tax for cut in tobacco use

Ng Yuk-hang, SCMP

The number of teenage smokers has fallen in the past five years as the extension of the smoking ban and the rise in tobacco tax have made the habit more inconvenient and costly, university researchers said yesterday.

But 33,000 pupils – 6.9 per cent of those in Form One to Five – still smoke, the University of Hong Kong researchers estimated. The government should continue to push its anti-tobacco efforts because “they will never be enough”, they said.

In the most recent survey, the university interviewed 18,278 students last year randomly sampled from different secondary schools.

Of these, 6.9 per cent said they had smoked a cigarette in the previous 30 days, while 17.7 per cent said they had tried smoking at some time.

The proportion of current smokers was down from 9.6 per cent in 2003 and 9.5 per cent in 2006, school of public health assistant professor Dr Daniel Ho Sai-yin said. He believed the increase in tobacco tax and extension of the smoking ban had contributed. “Teenagers are especially sensitive to a tax increase. They might rather save the money for a trip with their family,” he said.

Smoking had become an “old-fashioned habit” among teenagers, and smokers were getting more and more unpopular, he said.

Among the young smokers, about half did not have an intention to quit, a slight improvement from 59 per cent in 2003. “If they do not quit now, half of them will die prematurely in middle age because of smoking,” Ho said. The government should start looking into the feasibility of banning smoking further – such as in vehicles whenever children were present.

“This is the practice in some American states,” he said. “Smoking in front of children is a form of physical abuse.”

School director Professor Lam Tai-hing said smoking controls could never be enough, citing as an example the loophole in the restaurant smoking ban that means owners are not punished for not stopping their customers from smoking.“By the time law enforcement officials arrive, the smokers are already gone,” he said.

The government should increase the tobacco tax every year to boost its deterrent effect, he said. Pictures on cigarette packets could show more clearly “the disgusting health consequence of smoking”.

The university has organised a video competition for secondary school pupils in which they can upload a one-minute anti-smoking video on YouTube, which would then be voted on.

Lam said the competition would not focus on preventing youth smoking, but rather the “denormalisation” of the habit.

“If we tell them teenagers should not smoke, we are implying that adults can,” he said. “Instead we should spread the message that smoking is no longer a trend. It does not imply independence.”

Smoking killed 6,000 people a year in the city and second-hand smoke another 1,000, he said.