UPDATE: Province sues tobacco companies for health costs

Ryan Ross
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The P.E.I. government plans to sue big tobacco companies to recoup health care costs related to smoking.

P.E.I.'s courts could be the next battleground for tobacco companies after the provincial government filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for health care costs associated with tobacco-related disease.

The province's statement of claim filed Monday named 13 tobacco companies as part of an alleged conspiracy to keep knowledge about the harmful and addictive properties of cigarettes from the province and the public.

It also included the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council as defendants in the lawsuit.

The claim divided the companies into four related groups based on their ownership: Philip Morris Group, R. J Reynolds, British American Tobacco and Rothmans.

The Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council is the industry's trade association created in 1963 to allegedly influence government on questions surrounding the health effects of smoking.

In the 76-page statement of claim, the province seeks to recover health care costs from tobacco related disease for each year from 1953.

The province is also seeking estimated costs for health care benefits that could reasonably be expected to result from tobacco related disease.

The government didn't include the values in the statement of claim but said it would provide them prior to trial.

Last fall, the government hired a legal consortium to represent the province, along with New Brunswick, B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, although the claim filed Monday only involves P.E.I.

The claim came after the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act was proclaimed this summer in the government's efforts to recover some of its health-care costs associated with tobacco use.

In its statement of claim, the government alleged that by 1950 the tobacco companies knew nicotine was addictive and smoking cigarettes could cause or contribute to disease.

Since then, the defendants breached their obligations by misrepresenting the risks of smoking, not warning Islanders about the risks, promoting cigarettes to children and adolescents, and by making an unsafe product, the government alleged.

The claim also alleged the defendants suppressed scientific data about the risks of smoking and exposure to smoke, manipulated nicotine levels in cigarettes and misrepresented that filtered, mild, low tar and light cigarettes were healthier.

Throughout the claim, the government detailed how each company was connected and their individual roles in the alleged conspiracy to keep information about the dangers of smoking from the public.

“This claim begins the process of holding the tobacco industry to account for the harm it has caused to Islanders,” Justice Minister Janice Sherry

The Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council gave the tobacco companies a means to implement their conspiracy, the claim alleges.

The government claimed the conspiracy started in 1953 through a series of meetings and communication between some of the tobacco companies, through which they agreed to give misleading information about smoking's risks.

Through that conspiracy, the defendants acted in circumstances in which they knew or should have known that harm and health care costs would result from what they were doing, the claim alleged.

In laying out its case against the defendants, the government said each group had policies in place to withhold, alter and destroy research on addiction and the link between tobacco and illness.

The defendants also took part in misleading campaigns that included public denials of any negative effects from smoking while trying to diminish the credibility of health authorities and anti-smoking groups, the claim alleged.

That allegedly included research that showed smokers developed a daily nicotine quota and would adjust how much they smoked to maintain it while smoking cigarettes that delivered less nicotine.

The government alleged the defendants targeted women through deceitful advertising and marketing with brands like Virginia Slims and campaigns that connected smoking to healthy lifestyles, all in an effort to increase smoking rates among that demographic.

In the claim, the government also alleged the defendants targeted children and adolescents who were unable to make informed decisions about smoking because the companies knew most smokers became addicted before they turned 19.

In a news release, Justice Minister Janice Sherry said the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act empowered the government to start recovering the cost of treating tobacco related illness.

"This claim begins the process of holding the tobacco industry to account for the harm it has caused to Islanders," she said.

None of the defendants have filed statements of defence and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

rross@theguardian.pe.ca

twitter.com/ryanrross

Organizations: Supreme Court, Bennett Jones

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, British Columbia Saskatchewan Manitoba Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • don.t understand
    September 14, 2012 - 17:35

    Wes Sheriton sold and promoted cigarettes for years when he was the area manager for Imperial tobacco.If anyone knows about how tobacco companys work it is him.I understand that besides making tax money from smokes that the island gov. invests in cigatette companys as part of their overall investments.Could someone explain this .Who gets rich "the lawyers"who gets poorer "the islanders"

  • Bumper
    September 13, 2012 - 09:45

    Guess the province has to keep in step with New Brunswick where they are now in the process of suing the tobacco companies. In recent news the NB government confirmed that the Province has heavily invested public sector pension funds in tobacco company stocks. Now how hypocritical is that? In defence the minister responsible said the funds were invested by the provincial investment corporation and that they were operating within their mandate to find the best investment return for the province. Sound familiar?? Do we not have any principled people in politics? Why must they conduct the peoples business in such an underhanded, back stabbing sleazy manner. Is there anyone out there with any sense of civic responsibility? Wonder how much Mr. Sheridan has invested in the tobacco industry?? Can',t wait to get rid of these people. The Liberals and Conservatives have ruined this country. Time for new political parties with a sense of public accountability. Can't help but feel there are a lot of feeders here getting rich on the public purse.

  • CF
    September 13, 2012 - 01:29

    @NOTAMATHWIZ sorry, I did add in an extra zero there by accident.

  • mario
    September 12, 2012 - 16:28

    Sorry, but the statue of Limitations is longer passed. You can't get compensation from the 1950's nice try.

    • Piet Hein
      September 12, 2012 - 19:13

      Mario, is this statue of limitations you speak of the one that looks like Sir John A. down on Queen Street? It is statute of limitations, not statue.

    • Mcfly
      September 12, 2012 - 21:24

      I didn't knoz dis waz a spelIng Quiez.

  • CF
    September 12, 2012 - 15:48

    When I lived in Florida, a pack of cigarettes cost between $2 and $4. The Canadian dollar was stronger at this time as well. When I would come back in the summer to work, a pack of cigarettes would be around $9.50. Now, that same pack of cigarettes is $11. Long story short: for every pack of "cheap" cigarettes sold, there is about 7 or 8 dollars that our government is skimming. If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a week, which is not heavy smoking, the government is taking about $4000 a year from you. Multiply this by the number of smokers there are, subtract the number who move away/die from non-smoking-related causes... this is a bull**** money grab from greedy politicians who misspent the money they have already taken from cigarette sales. Not saying tobacco companies are noble or moral entities, but this stinks.

    • notamathwhiz
      September 12, 2012 - 19:40

      I cannot see how the government is getting $4000 a year from me if I am smoking a pack a week at say $11 a pack. The math seems to be somewhat lacking here. Though I do think the government is looking for easy money- they want it both ways- payback from the tobacco companies as well as high taxes they collect from each pack sold. Just declare smoking and cigarettes illegal and that is that. But then they would lose all the taxes they are collecting on each pack of cigarettes. The governments are as bad as the tobacco companies, probably worse.!!!!!

  • Concerned
    September 12, 2012 - 15:20

    While were on the subject would the government please look after having the walking trails by the QEH cleaned up, there are a lot of patients with their walking buddies attached out there smoking and staff as well, the trail is white from all the BUTTS on the pavement, maybe we could start with showing respect for the hospital and what they are working towards and put the patients on the Patch while they are in the hospital receiving treatment, this could be a start to fixing some of our smoking related problems.

  • Sorearm
    September 12, 2012 - 15:06

    I hope the province wins. It will set precedence and i might have a case for myself. Thinking about sueing the "adult" industry for this darn carpel-tunnel and rotator cuff trouble I have.

  • chris
    September 12, 2012 - 13:50

    So can families sue the gov' for their children's Exposure to radon in our schools?

  • Confused
    September 12, 2012 - 12:56

    And yet.. these same products are still legal for sale in PEI. The health risks are still there.. and there will still be healthcare costs. "We're suing you for years of health costs that were racked up due to your product.. but sure we'll still allow your product to be sold."

  • Gman
    September 12, 2012 - 12:52

    PEI is broke , the gov't is looking for money anywhere it can get it, the quickly eroding tax base is leaving for Alberta. They already raided public pension funds, now they're going after big tabacco and soon they'll be forced to skyrocket taxes on remaining working islanders...

  • curious
    September 12, 2012 - 12:42

    Should the government sue all the companies that make fattening food,all the fast food chains for all the health related problems caused from obesity? What about all the health problems caused from drinking?

  • loud
    September 12, 2012 - 12:20

    Good luck with that,,,,,,,I am sorry I don't get it that people will go and spend $100.00 + for a carton of cigs just to Blacken their lungs and end up in a Hosp. not able to breath and blame tobacco company's for their illness and then complain about health care..I read somewrere that 16% of Islanders Smoke ...I would say its more like 30%,,,,,,just saying....Smoking is not a cure for cancer...............

  • don
    September 12, 2012 - 12:19

    if you win the law suit i guess it is time to donate more money to family, friends and off islanders who will take the money and run. as we all know it sure will not be used to help REAL islanders.

  • Just wondering
    September 12, 2012 - 12:05

    Who is going to sue PEI for growing it? In a suit do not have to name all of the participants? If they are going to sue tobacco will they also be suing private fast food restuarants for contributing to all of the vascular diseases and obesity they cause? How about private business that only hire casual houred employees and provide no secondary health insurance so all the services come out of the provincial system? This could get busy for the Attorney General's office!

  • Non smoker
    September 12, 2012 - 11:55

    Not to defend tobacco companies at all but I thought the purpose of very high taxes on smokes was to cover "health care costs for tobacco-related illnesses."

  • Resident
    September 12, 2012 - 11:46

    Great. This would give PEI residents a precedent to sue PEI government for failing to provide adequate healthcare services that resulted in lack of prevention and delays in treatments.

  • In Other News...
    September 12, 2012 - 11:37

    In other news...Government of PEI thanks the tobacco companies for selling so much tobacco since 1953 as it has provided the province with an endless supply of tax dollars in these sales...

  • johnthames
    September 12, 2012 - 11:31

    Wes and the boys plan to sue, all the while sucking up the tax revenue. Gotta luv the greed and hypocrisy. Of course, tobacco sux, but the gall of these guys is astounding (HST, Plan B, Health PEI, PNP etc etc).

  • Neil
    September 12, 2012 - 11:30

    HAHAHA Good luck with that. My bet is the Island will pay much more in Legal Fees then they will ever recover in compensation. Maybe worry about attracting Industry and Business to PEI, rather than always trying for the ineffective approach. PMP and Lawsuits, not sustainable. The Tobacco Companies are about to make a fool out of PEI, and the dumb Islanders who chose to smoke their whole life. Who's next, Cavendish Farms and their pesticides!!!

  • Sylvia
    September 12, 2012 - 11:16

    I wonder if there is anything else this government can think of to rake in more money. My husband quit smoking in 1991, took personal responsibility for smoking, quit on his own without any help, He says that no one twisted his arm to smoke. Governments have reaped lots of taxes from cigarettes. He feels that this is a waste of money hiring lawyers for something that will drag on for years. He doesn't blame the tobacco companies for his smoking habit. This government is desperate for money as they've wasted so much of it.

  • Big pharma too
    September 12, 2012 - 11:04

    We should also jump on the bandwagon and sue big pharma too! Other provinces and states have done it. We should too. They should ABSOLUTELY have to pay for the devastation that their highly addictive drugs have caused. They have been successfully sued, and pleaded guilty, to misrepresenting the addictive nature of their pills, which has led to the current epidemic.

  • A Concerned Islander
    September 12, 2012 - 11:03

    This is interesting! Will the families be able to sue the government for allowing the sale of tobacco products which caused hardship for the families? I would like to be reimbursed all the money my late husband spent on his 20 year addiction. It is money I could have used for food and/or other expenses while raising 3 children. Will the government be held accountable for allowing the growing of tobacco to make the end product?

  • Susan Burton
    September 12, 2012 - 10:48

    Does this mean we can now sue the PEI Gov't for alcohol related illnesses since they are the supplier?

  • islander
    September 12, 2012 - 10:46

    what about alcohol cigarette packages carry all these pictures and stake that it kills but why doesn't a case a beer show what happens with drinking and driving or is that because the government gets most of the money from liquor same with gambling i know it doesn't kill but it does indirectly as how many people have commited suicide after they realize how badly they are in debt due to gambling

    • Belfast Guy
      September 13, 2012 - 10:07

      Might just as well sue the oil companies and the banks, they steal from the people the same as as the government and the tobacco companies. What a joke, smoking is a choice, no one forces anyone to smoke anymore than you are forced to eat greasy burgers and fries to become obese and fill the hospitals with heart attack and stroke victims.