Ottawa off the hook in tobacco lawsuits, Supreme court rules

Posted on July 29, 2011 in Health Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – news
Jul 29, 2011.   by Jordan Press, Ottawa

The federal government will not be on the hook for billions of dollars as the result of provincial lawsuits over smoking and the drain it has put on health care, the country’s top court has ruled.

The Supreme Court of Canada had been weighing whether the federal government could be a third-party defendant in a lawsuit against tobacco companies and, by extension, bear some financial responsibility for any penalty over the costs provinces incur to care for ill smokers.

In a unanimous decision Friday, the court ruled tobacco companies should bear the full financial brunt of any future settlements in the lawsuits.

The decision means the federal government won’t be named as a defendant in a massive lawsuit in B.C., where smokers are suing Imperial Tobacco, the country’s largest tobacco company, over the sale of light and mild cigarettes, which they argue were inaccurately marketed as being less of a health risk than regular cigarettes.

The tobacco industry had argued the federal government was a key industry player since the 1960s and should be a third-party defendant in any lawsuit.

The government had argued the point of the lawsuits was to recoup money for provincial taxpayers and shouldn’t be “frustrated by allowing the tobacco industry to pass those costs back to taxpayers through another level of government.”

Four provinces — B.C., Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador — have launched lawsuits against tobacco companies for past, present and future health care associated with tobacco use. Four more have announced intentions to launch lawsuits of their own.

B.C. has not said how much it could ask for in costs, but Ontario is suing tobacco companies for $50 billion.

The B.C. Court of Appeal had ruled in 2009 that the federal government could be named as a third-party defendant in the massive lawsuit.

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