Three of Canada’s tobacco giants began their defense Monday against a $27-billion class-action lawsuit in Montreal by calling a witness who said the dangers of smoking are no secret.
Historian and professor Jacques Lacoursière testified tobacco’s health risks have been common knowledge for decades. He pointed to over 700 references to the hazards of smoking dating back to the 1950s, including TV and radio reports, school manuals, government releases and health professionals.
One of the many examples included a newspaper article that outlined a significant increase in lung cancer risk following the prolonged use of cigarettes. The proceedings will continue on Tuesday with the plaintiffs’ cross-examination of Lacoursière.
“What these historians miss is all the coverage that came out in the media about how the industry was involved in a conspiracy to hide all that information,” said Damphousse François, the Quebec director of the Non-Smoker’s Rights Association.
“They knew about the health effects of their products, but they didn’t meet the obligation to inform their public about what they knew.”
The class-action lawsuit, which is being touted as the biggest civil case in Canadian history, was first filed years ago. The complainants, two groups of individuals representing a total of 1.8 million Quebecers, allege three tobacco companies did everything possible to encourage addiction:
- Imperial Tobacco.
- Rothmans, Benson & Hedges.
One group involves individuals who have become seriously ill from smoking, and members of the other group say they are unable to quit smoking.
Altria Group Philip Morris USA unit falsely marketed its “light” cigarettes as a healthier choice than regular cigarettes and should pay $543.6 million in restitution to California smokers, a lawyer said at the start of a trial, according to a story in Bloomburg News.
Mark Robinson, who represents smokers who brought the lawsuit as a class action, said in state court in San Diego today he will present internal Philip Morris documents proving its top executives were aware that Marlboro Lights were as addictive and dangerous to smokers as Marlboro Reds and continued selling the Lights as a healthy alternative.
“Their own documents tell the truth,” Robinson said in his opening statement at the nonjury trial. He said financial experts will testify in support of his request for damages for a class of smokers from January 1998 to April 2001.
The case, filed in 1997, accused Philip Morris and other tobacco companies of making misleading statements about the health risks and addictiveness of smoking, and sought restitution for money that smokers spent on cigarettes.
Philip Morris USA, based in Richmond, Virginia, is the only remaining defendant in the case and the only claim still at issue is that it made false statements concerning light cigarettes. California Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager is presiding over the trial.
Vietnam’s law on the prevention and control of smoking takes effect on May 1, 2013, according to the Health Ministry, according to a story in VietnamPlus.
The law, with five chapters and 35 clauses, regulates measures aimed to reduce the demand for tobacco, control supply and prevent tobacco harm, said the ministry at a conference in Hanoi on April 23.
According to Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Xuyen, in the coming time, the implementation of the law will focus on enforcing the smoking ban in agencies, government offices, schools, hospitals and a number of public places.
Regulating cigarette advertisement, promotion and funding will be another focus, she added.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Vietnam is one of 15 countries with the most smokers in the world. About half of all male adults (15 years old and above) in the country are smokers.
Earlier, on January 25, 2013, the Prime Minister approved the national strategy to combat tobacco’s negative impacts by 2020.
Decades of anti-smoking campaigns whittled Canada’s smoking population from about 50 percent in 1965 to less than 20 percent in 2011, but the rate of decline has slowed in recent years and five million Canadians still smoke, according to a Conference Board of Canada report Profile of Tobacco Smokers in Canada.
“It appears that, as the saying goes, the low-hanging fruit has been picked,” said Louis Thériault, director, health economics for the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care, which conducted the research. “Further reductions in smoking will need to target the segments of our population where the smoking rate is still high – lower-income Canadians, in some blue-collar occupations and in industries such as construction.
“Most smokers work, so one of the best opportunities to help smokers break the habit is through smoking cessation programs in the workplace,” he added.
The study found that in 2011, 13.7 percent of Canadians smoked on a daily basis and another 3.6 percent were occasional smokers.
Almost 20 pe cent of Canadian men and 15 percent of Canadian women smoke. But 42.5 percent of Canadians in 2011 had never smoked a cigarette.