In a landmark decision, Canada's federal government has been deemed not liable for billions of dollars in damages stemming from lawsuits against tobacco companies, according to the country's Supreme Court. The unanimous decision marks a victory for the federal government in two cases where it could have been on the hook to help foot the bills in lawsuits against big tobacco companies.
Big tobacco wished that the government would have had to share the burden of the billions they lose in court. The argument was that the capital of Ottawa had allowed and regulated the use of tobacco and should therefore pay at least part of any damages awarded by provincial courts.
Ottawa fought a decision by an appeals court in the province of British Columbia, which ruled in 2009 that the federal government should be a co-defendant and therefore share in any liability awarded by the province's courts.
British Columbia was suing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co (RAI.N), Japan Tobacco's (2914.T) JTI-Macdonald unit, Rothmans Benson & Hedges Inc, which is partly owned by Philip Morris (PM.N), and Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd, a unit of British American Tobacco (BATS.L).
Several of Canada's 10 provinces sued or say they will sue the tobacco industry but British Columbia filed first and Canadian courts are using it as the lead case.
British Columbia declined to say how much money it was seeking in damages. Ontario, Canada's most populous province, launched a suit against the companies in 2009 seeking $53 billion USD.
In another case the Supreme Court considered, Imperial Tobacco is facing a class action lawsuit by smokers because of its so-called light and mild brands of cigarettes. Smokers are using consumer protection laws to try to get their money back for cigarettes they purchased. They argue the company was deceptive and misrepresented the safety of light and mild cigarettes.
Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada stated:
"The real difference this decision will reach is that it will remove the last roadblock standing in the way of these suits proceeding,"
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) is a national health organization, founded in 1985 as a registered charity. They are a unique organization of Canadian physicians who share one goal: the reduction of tobacco-caused illness through reduced smoking and reduced exposure to second-hand smoke.
In the past 20 years, more than 1,500 Canadian physicians have joined PSC and are funded primarily by contributions from Health Canada and other health ministries, by donations from private foundations, by earnings on its consulting services, and by donations from its members.
In Canada, indoor smoking is banned by all territories and provinces and by the federal government. As of 2010, legislation banning smoking within each of these jurisdictions is mostly consistent, despite the separate development of legislation by each jurisdiction.
The federal government's smoking ban in workplaces and on common carriers applies only to the federal government and to federally regulated businesses, such as airports. Smoking rooms are not permitted in hotels, however they are permitted in motels. Nova Scotia and Ontario also banned smoking within vehicles with children under 16.
Sources: Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada and The CBC
Written by Sy Kraft