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January 6th, 2012:

$1 Spent On Smoking Cessation Saves $3
A program that helped low income Massachusetts residents stop smoking saved
three-dollars for every dollar spent. That’s the conclusion of a study from
George Washington University published online today in the journal PLoS One.

“While we have always known that helping people quit smoking is an
investment in their health, this study shows that our efforts are also a
sound financial investment for the Commonwealth,” said Governor Deval
Patrick in a statement. “This represents another positive outcome of health
reform in Massachusetts.”

Tobacco Could Be Forced Into Plain Packaging in the U.K.

In the Fall of 2012, all cigarette brands will be required to have warning labels covering the top half of the pack both front and back.

By the end of 2012, all tobacco products in Australia will be packaged in plain beige wrapping, accompanied by graphic warnings about the dangers of consuming the product. Now, officials in the United Kingdom are considering adopting a similar law of their own to counteract the negative effects of colorful cigarette branding, Medical News reports.

British Health Secretary Andrew Lansley expressed his support for the idea after a recent survey from the British Heart Foundation found that one in six young people in the country make decisions on which brand of cigarette to smoke based on packaging design. Citing government data showing that about 200,000 young people in Britain take up smoking every year, Lansley said discouraging people from smoking is a “public health priority.”

Advertising for tobacco is banned in the country, but many believe the bright and colorful packaging of cigarettes constitutes a form of advertising. The government will begin considering the idea of requiring plain packaging in a public consultation early this year.

If the U.K. decides to go forward with the plan, it could face a barrage of resistance from the tobacco industry, which has already challenged Australia’s new law in court. Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco joined forces to bring the issue to the country’s High Court.

Similarly, lobbying group Freedom Organization for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco opposes the hypothetical law, saying that plain packaging would hold little sway in helping young people decide not to smoke.

“There is no evidence that plain packs will make any difference to youth smoking rates,” said Simon Clark, director of the group. “The vast majority of young people are influenced not by packaging but by peer pressure and the fact that members of their family are smokers. Tens of millions of people have been exposed to branded cigarette packaging for decades and have never been encouraged to start smoking. To suggest that people are so easily influenced by the sight of a colored pack is not only patronizing, it’s downright offensive.”

Already, 80,000 Britons die of smoking-related diseases every year, Medical News said.

Ontario judge rules tobacco lawsuit can proceed

Province’s $50-billion action targets 14 companies for increasing health costs by selling addictive product

An Ontario judge has ruled that a controversial $50-billion lawsuit can proceed against 14 tobacco companies that are accused of raising health care costs in Ontario by selling a risky and addictive product.

In a ruling earlier this week, Madam Justice Barbara Conway of the Ontario Superior Court rejected an application from seven foreign-based companies that wanted a lawsuit launched by the provincial government thrown out on the basis that the court had no jurisdiction over them.

Ontario Attorney-General John Gerretsen said the ruling paves the way for the lawsuit to proceed.

“The province has achieved a milestone in its efforts to recover past and ongoing health care costs borne by Ontario taxpayers due to tobacco-related illness,” Mr. Gerretsen said in a statement Friday.

The lawsuit was launched in 2009 and claimed that the tobacco companies knew about the addictiveness of cigarettes and the health damage they caused but deceived the public by misrepresenting the risks and failing to warn consumers about the dangers of smoking.

The lawsuit also claims the companies promoted cigarettes to children and teenagers and did not take all available steps to reduce the risks caused by their products.

The claims have not been proven in court.

The government said it is seeking $50-billion in damages because smoking is the number one cause of premature death and illness in Ontario and costs the health care system $1.6-billion annually.

“We will continue to vigorously pursue this litigation on behalf of all Ontarians,” Mr. Gerretsen said.

The tobacco companies named in the lawsuit include Rothmans Benson & Hedges Inc., JTI-Macdonald Corp. and Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. as well as their parent companies.

The firms have denied the claims. The industry has warned that the lawsuit would drive the companies into bankruptcy because there is no hidden pot of money available to pay the enormous claims if they succeed, and has called the lawsuit “hypocritical” because the Ontario government has collected billions of dollars in taxes on tobacco products over the years.

The Ontario court ruling is consistent with rulings in other provinces that have launched similar lawsuits to recoup health care costs.

British Columbia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland have also sued the tobacco companies, and courts in B.C. and New Brunswick have also upheld the right to include the Canadian firms’ foreign parent companies in the suits.

A lawyer for the Canadian Cancer Society said the Ontario lawsuit is “enormous” in importance and it is critical to have the foreign parent companies named in the case. “It’s important. The allegations are that they participated and directed the conspiracy to deny the health effects and have a cover-up and destroy research,” Rob Cunningham said.

“And also they have very deep pockets, and they are able to pay a very substantial judgment. … The foreign parent companies have enormous capacity to pay, more than just the Canadian companies.”

Tobacco companies have faced lawsuits from U.S. states for decades, reaching settlements totalling almost $250-billion with those jurisdictions over the past 25 years, Mr. Cunningham said.