February 10, 2011 - Newfoundland and Labrador became on Tuesday, February 8th the latest province to sue more than a dozen tobacco companies for money to cover health-care costs related to smoking.
The Newfoundland government filed a statement of claim with the provincial Supreme Court in St. John's after proclaiming legislation that allows the province to pursue legal action against the tobacco industry, according to a statement sent by the province's Justice Department.
The Tobacco Health Care Costs Recovery Act was passed by the Newfoundland government in 2001, but only became law on Monday after the province took time to develop "a strong case" against the tobacco countries. "By proclaiming this piece of legislation we want to expose tobacco companies for misrepresenting the harm associated with their products," said Felix Collins, the province's justice minister.
"Through this action, it is also our hope consumers and potential consumers of tobacco will be fully aware of the misrepresentation by tobacco companies, so that they will think twice before deciding to start or to continue smoking."
The lawsuit does not name a specific amount sought, instead asking for "the recovery of costs associated with health-care services provided to individuals who have suffered with tobacco-related diseases, as well as the future health-related costs to the province. Jennifer Tulk, a spokeswoman with the Justice Department, said the sum "is expected to be substantial," and likely in the billions.
The government statement said the lawsuit was another weapon in the province's arsenal for the fight against smoking in Newfoundland, where about one in five adults light up regularly. This is a move for which many in the province's anti-smoking lobby have been waiting a long time, said Kevin Coady, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance for the Control of Tobacco. "It's a huge undertaking, there's no denying that," said Coady. "History shows the tobacco industry will march in with a crowd of lawyers and try to beat you back and drag it wherever they can." That being said, the statement of claim is "fantastic news," he added.
Collins said there is a good reason why the province is acting now, a decade after the Tobacco Health Care Costs Recovery Act was passed. "We wanted to make sure we were ready and had our case in hand before we proclaimed the act. In that 10 years we have learned from the other provinces, the other jurisdictions, as they pursue their claims," said Collins.
Newfoundland has two years in which to pursue its case and Collins expects it will be at least that long before the case goes to court. "We expect the tobacco companies will stall and drag this out, but we hope we can get this thing to court, if it gets to the court, by the latter part of 2013 of 2014," he said.
If the case does make it to the courts the province will have some experienced help in pleading its case. The government has retained the services of St. John's law firm Roebothan McKay Marshall in the case. The law firm will receive legal advice from Humphrey, Farrington and McClain of Independence, Mississippi, said to be experts in tobacco litigation. The American firm "are specialists and . . . have a lot of experience with tobacco companies. So we would draw very heavily on their advice and their experience in that respect," said Collins.
British Columbia was the first province to attempt to recover money spent on tobacco-related health issues by suing 14 tobacco companies for $10 billion in 2004. Four years later, New Brunswick filed suit against Rothman's Ltd., and in 2009, Ontario and Quebec both sued the industry for a combined $80 billion.
Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have all drafted or enacted similar legislation. New Brunswick lawsuit against tobacco companie - outside lawyers can be used.. Ont. launches $50B tobacco lawsuit
In 1999, all 50 U.S. states successfully settled with a number of tobacco companies for a combined $245 billion to be paid out over 25 years. U.S. - Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement..
Related: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador class action against Imperial Tobacco rejected..
Reference: N.L. latest province to sue tobacco industry by Mike Barber and Colin MacLean, Postmedia News and St. John's Telegram, The Vancouver Sun, 2/8/2011.