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.
An increase in in Canada’s Manitoba province’s tobacco tax has some smokers and tobacconists worried about the holes it’s expected to burn through their wallets and bottom lines.
On April 16, the province announced an immediate $0.04 hike in the tax, to $0.29 per cigarette, as part of its 2013 budget, according to a story in the Brandon Sun.
Peter Patel, owner of Up In Smoke Tobacconist, said he was caught off guard when he first learned of the hike on the radio.
“People are mad,” said Patel, adding he spent all of last Wednesday updating his prices and cash registers.
“They should be informed beforehand.”
The increase amounts to an extra dollar per pack of 25 cigarettes and includes an extra $0.04 per gram on fine-cut and raw leaf tobacco. The province expects to bring in an extra $17.2 million from the tax, which will be redirected into health care.
Overall, Manitoba expects to collect $283 million from tobacco taxes this year. The increase makes Manitoba smokers the most heavily taxed in Canada.
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.