The Province of Ontario said on Tuesday it was suing the tobacco industry in a bid to recover billions of dollars in smoking-related health care costs.
The lawsuit seeks C$50 billion (US$46 billion) from a dozen Canadian companies and their corporate parents.
Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley said the figure represents an estimate of the cost for treating illnesses directly tied to tobacco from 1955 until now.
The claim follows similar actions by the provinces of British Columbia and New Brunswick, as well as in the US and elsewhere.
Among those named in the suit is Canada’s largest tobacco manufacturer, Imperial Tobacco Co, a wholly owned unit of British American Tobacco of London that sells cigarettes under brands including du Maurier and Player’s.
Imperial spokesman Eric Gagnon suggested the Ontario government was being hypocritical.
“They’re collecting billions of dollars in taxes [on tobacco products] and right now they are turning and suing the tobacco companies,” Gagnon said. “This is a legal product and we do it in the way the government dictates us to do it.”
The lawsuit alleges the companies have long known cigarettes are addictive and that active and passive smoking can cause diseases such as lung cancer. It also accuses the companies of conspiring to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking, suppressing evidence of its risks, and failing to take proper care to stop adolescents from smoking.
Ontario, Canada’s most populous province with over 12 million residents, says tobacco-related illnesses cost the healthcare system more than C$1.6 billion per year. Tobacco use accounts for the deaths of about 13,000 Ontario residents each year, or 36 deaths per day, and almost 500,000 hospital days annually, it says.
In 1998, 46 US states settled a lawsuit against the tobacco industry for US$206 billion, payable over 25 years, for health care costs and anti-smoking campaigns. Four other states settled separately for a total of US$40 billion.
Last month, a Los Angeles jury recommended that Philip Morris USA pay US$13.8 million in punitive damages to the daughter of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer.
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