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Thu, Feb 22, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Lawmakers urge government lead in tobacco suits

PUBLIC HEALTH Two legislators yesterday urged the nation, rather than local authorities, to sue US tobacco manufacturers, as a way of enhancing the nation's role on the world stage

By Chuang Chi-ting  /  STAFF REPORTER

DPP legislators Wang Hseuh-fung (王雪峰) and Lai Chin-lin (賴勁麟) yesterday held a joint press conference to urge that political concerns be set aside and lawsuits against US-based tobacco suppliers be filed by the central government in the name of the nation.

Fifteen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on Tuesday appealed to local governments to file suit against five US tobacco makers for compensation for the cost of treating smoking-related diseases. They said that avoiding using the name "Republic Of China" could circumvent disputes about Taiwan's status that might hinder the proceedings.

The local NGOs plan to file lawsuits against five US-based tobacco companies for at least US$24 billion in the name of Taipei City Hall by May 31, international non-smoking day. Targeted companies include RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp, Lorillard Tobacco Co, Liggett Group Inc and Philip Morris Co, the largest tobacco supplier worldwide.

"Since the government has placed so much emphasis on human rights diplomacy, we should no longer limit ourselves with political concerns when coping with anti-tobacco issues," she said.

Moreover, Wang said, by suing these companies in the name of public health, Taiwan could promote its image on the international stage, "to receive greater publicity for Taiwan's effort to promote public health will be helpful in the country's effort to join the World Health Organization," she said.

Wang also said that the lawsuits served a mainly symbolic purpose of demonstrating Taiwan's determination to fight the dangers of tobacco rather than to win compensation, as most cases take some time to be completed and will not necessarily be won. "Since we may not win anyway, why don't we just try increasing the impact of our suits by using the authority of the central government?" Wang added.

Wang said the tobacco industry would lobby local government officials and councilors to obstruct their anti-tobacco efforts.

"They will pressure lawmakers too if we pressure the central government to fight them. But at least what happens in the legislature is more open to public scrutiny than what goes on in the smaller local councils," she added. She also said local governments do not necessarily have the resources to prepare for such lawsuits.

The John Tung Foundation (董氏基金會), which launched the action to fight the US tobacco giants yesterday, said that many countries have filed suits against US-based tobacco companies since 1999. This followed numerous legal victories by US states against the tobacco companies since 1996.

"If there were not much possibility for them to win the suit, why would all these central or local governments of these countries try to sue the cigarette suppliers?" the foundation asked.

The foundation added that many countries which had put their names to suits against the tobacco industry had encountered great political and economic pressure from the US.

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