UPDATE: Province sues tobacco companies for health costs

Ryan Ross rross@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on September 12, 2012
Cigarettes are shown in an ash tray in this 2006 file photo. The death toll cancer takes in Canada is on the decline, fuelled in large part by the fact that lung cancer is killing fewer Canadian men than it did in earlier decades, the Canadian Cancer Society said Wednesday.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/ AP,Michael Probst

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.

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

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