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Ontario’s multibillion-dollar tobacco lawsuit can proceed

Canadian province is suing 14 tobacco companies for smoking-related health care costs

Litigation-wise, 2012 may not be the best year for the tobacco industry. Last week an Ontario judge announced she would allow a $48.82 billion lawsuit against a group of 14 tobacco companies to proceed.

In September 2009, Ontario, Canada’s most populated province, sued a group of tobacco companies—including Rothmans Benson & Hedges, which is partly owned by Philip Morris; Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., a unit of British American Tobacco; and Japan Tobacco—claiming the companies knew that cigarettes were addictive and posed major health risks that they misrepresented to the public. The suit seeks past and ongoing health care costs tied to tobacco-related illnesses that Canadian taxpayers have paid since 1955.

Seven of the companies named in the suit filed an application to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming the court had no jurisdiction over them. But Ontario Superior Justice Barbara Conway rejected their application and is allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

“We will continue to vigorously pursue this litigation on behalf of all Ontarians,” Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen said in a statement on Friday.

Thomson Reuters reports that other Canadian provinces also are suing tobacco companies in an effort to recoup health care costs. Ontario currently has a C$16 billion deficit, the largest of any Canadian province, and much of it comprises health care. The Canadian government claims smoking is the leading cause of premature death and illness in Ontario and costs the health care system C$1.6 billion each year.

Ashley Post

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