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Quebec $60 Billion Lawsuit Targets Big Tobacco

Quebec sued four major tobacco companies, seeking recompense for smoking-related public health costs from British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans and Philip Morris.

The Quebec government has sued four giant tobacco companies for $60 billion to recoup healthcare costs related to smoking.

The defendants are British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans and Philip Morris USA. Philip Morris, whose parent company is the Altria Group, is one of the largest tobacco companies in the world.

The lawsuit comes three years after the legislature unanimously agreed to the court action, QMI news agency reported on June 8. Health care is under the jurisdiction of provinces in Canada.

The lawsuit also comes 14 years after the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in the United States, in which Philip Morris USA and other large U.S. tobacco companies agreed to pay $246 billion to states to settle lawsuits brought by the attorneys general of 46 states to recover billions of dollars in costs associated with treating smoking-related illnesses.

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Five other provinces have filed similar lawsuits—British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Quebec—while Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have announced plans to file suits shortly, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). Alberta has also indicated it will seek $10 billion in damages.

Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc and Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said the province wants to recoup health-care costs dating back to 1970 and extending to 2030, according to QMI. The minister said the tobacco companies "made false representations and failed to inform consumers about the dangers and addictive effects of their products. The province also says the tobacco companies targeted children and adolescents in its ad campaigns.

"The tobacco companies knew the harm they caused," Bolduc told reporters, according to QMI. "The government of Quebec has a very good case."

QMI also reported that a lawsuit similar to the provincial government’s filed by a group of nearly two million Quebecers is currently being heard in Montreal. The plaintiffs are seeking $27 billion. The citizens' suit says Imperial Tobacco Canada, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges, and JTI-Macdonald Corp. conspired to hide information about the dangers of smoking. They're also accused of trivializing the risks of smoking, engaging in false marketing to fool the public about the dangers and risks of smoking, and deliberately violating the rights to life, security and integrity of Quebec citizens.

Last summer, the Altria Group released a “white paper” that urged New York State to clamp down on tax-free cigarettes manufactured on Indian land. The paper, replete with references to news reports, statutes and case law, was one more feint in a long line of efforts by Big Tobacco to get the federal and state governments to crack down on its competition—sovereign Indian nations and small tobacco manufacturers. Since January New York state law enforcement agencies around Mohawk territory have seized more than half a dozen truckloads of cigarettes that are manufactured on Indian land and licensed and taxed by the federal and tribal governments. The cigarettes were being transported to reservations both in New York State and in other states. Indian attorneys say the Big Tobacco company may be behind the seizures.