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Ottawa asks court to rule on smoking suit liability

The Calgary Herald, Janice Tibbetts

12th Feb, 2010

The federal government — which helped tobacco companies develop low-tar cigarettes in the late 1960s — has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to weigh in on a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against the tobacco industry to recoup health costs related to smoking.

The Justice Department is seeking leave to appeal a December court ruling in the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which exposed the federal government to potential liability by concluding it should be a third-party defendant in the suit, launched by the B.C. government.

The trial, expected to begin next year, is the first of several legal challenges nationwide in which provinces are seeking to recover health costs.

Tobacco manufacturers maintain the government should share responsibility for health costs because Agriculture Canada conducted its own research while regulating the industry, knew of international studies linking smoking and lung cancer, and nonetheless encouraged and aided the industry in developing light and mild brands.

“The fact of the matter is that the federal government is a senior partner in the tobacco industry,” said Eric Gagnon, a spokesman for Imperial Tobacco, one of the manufacturers named in the suit.

“We believe it is important for the government to answer, as the tobacco industry will, on its involvement in the development of the industry in Canada.”

The B.C. decision could open up the government to responsibility in other suits against the tobacco industry filed in Ontario and New Brunswick, and pending actions in Quebec and Manitoba.

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