If you can't quit smoking blame yourself, lawyers for Canada's three largest tobacco companies argued Monday as they face nearly 2 million smokers who claim they were not sufficiently warned about the health dangers of cigarettes.
"Those who decide to start smoking or continue smoking should assume responsibility for a choice they make -- because no one can say they don't about the dangers associated with smoking," argued lawyer Suzanne Cote during opening statements, who represents Imperial Tobacco, Canada's largest tobacco firm, ctvnews reported.
After 13 years of legal delay and appeals for dismissal, plaintiffs in two separate class action lawsuits are being heard together against defendants Imperial Tobacco Co., a wholly owned unit of British American Tobacco of London, JTI-Macdonald, a Japan Tobacco unit and Rothmans Benson & Hedges in the Superior Court of Quebec.
At stake is $27 billion in damages and penalties. The case is considered the biggest class-action case in Canadian history.
CP24 reports that the case also marks the first time tobacco companies have gone to trial in a civil suit in Canada -- stemming from two cases that were filed in 1998.
The first suit includes 90,000 current and former smokers in Quebec who say they have fallen ill with a range of smoking-related ailments including cancer in their lungs, larynx or throat, or emphysema, and are seeking $105,000 in compensatory and punitive damages per person.
Jean-Yves Blais is one of those persons.
Jean-Yves Blais, plaintiff, started smoking when he was 10
Blais,67, began smoking at age 10. He says it wasn't until the 1970s that he started hearing how harmful it could be.
"I've tried (to quit) five or six times in the last 14 years," Blais said in an interview at his home near Montreal, but he said some of the remedies triggered depression. "I smoke a little more than one package a day -- maybe 30 cigarettes a day."
Forced to have part of a lung removed because of cancer in 1997, The Globe and Mail reports, Blais has emphysema and will undergo tests to find out if two new lumps on his lungs are cancerous.
Blais has smoked for 57 years and continues to this day.
du Maurier Cigarettes. Advert early 1960s
One of Imperial Tobacco's leading brands in Canada.
The second suit , worth $17 billion, was filed by Cecilia Letorneau on behalf of the province's roughly 1.8 million smokers who were addicted to nicotine and remained addicted, unable to kick the tobacco habit or have died since without quitting. The suit seeks $10,000 in compensatory and punitive damages per plaintiff.
Letourneau told reporters Monday that she started smoking at age 19 in 1964, after being "programmed" by industry TV advertisements that made cigarettes seem cool.
"Smoking was in fashion," Letourneau said. "I chose to smoke to show that I was 'in'. "
Despite her repeated attempts to quit, she said she hasn't succeeded.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs claim they were not sufficiently warned of the health risks associated with smoking, and that Canadian tobacco companies concealed both the serious health risks like cancer and the highly addictive nature of cigarettes.
Not so, say the tobacco companies. They didn't conceal information that has been known since the 1960s. What is really happening is that the plaintiffs are applying hindsight to blame them for a “complex societal phenomenon” that has been approved and taxed by the federal government.
Quebec: Just the beginning
Quebec is just the first of many Canadian provinces seeking monetary damages from the tobacco manufacturers.
They hope to recover billions of dollars spent by their health insurers to treat the victims of tobacco use.
According to CBC news, The Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act allows the province to sue for recovery of past, present and continuing tobacco-related damages.
In the United States, in 1998, the tobacco industry resolved to pay a minimum of US$206 billion over twenty-five years to recover tobacco-related health-care costs under the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.
What do you think? Should tobacco companies be held responsible for smoking-related illnesses?