Health organizations say provinces must seek Big Tobacco settlement anti-smoking measures 2023


Three national health groups urge Canada’s premiers to advocate for smoking reduction during settlement discussions with big tobacco corporations, years after governments sued to reclaim health-care expenses.

In an open letter, the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Lung Association, and Heart and Stroke Foundation urge governments to prioritize tobacco use reduction in negotiations that began four years ago as part of the provinces’ $500 billion litigation.

“Tobacco causes a devastating toll in disease and death, a toll that is contributing to the ongoing crisis in the health-care system,” the groups say in the letter released Monday ahead of World No Tobacco Day, an annual World Health Organization campaign to raise awareness of tobacco’s harms.

All 10 provinces, starting with British Columbia in 1998, have sued Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc., and JTI-Macdonald Corp. and their overseas parent businesses.

Health groups recommend allocating at least 10% of a settlement to long-term, independent smoking cessation financing. They also want to outlaw tobacco industry advertising and have offenders pay more if tobacco consumption objectives aren’t fulfilled. They want firms to release millions of pages of internal documents.

The organizations said in a Monday letter ahead of World No Tobacco Day.

Before the letter was disclosed, a B.C. Ministry of Attorney General spokesman said she could not comment on any intentions to minimize cigarette usage after a settlement. She cited secrecy owing to court-ordered mediation after the cigarette corporations filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019.

The Quebec Court of Appeal maintained a historic verdict requiring the businesses to pay roughly $14 billion in damages to Quebec smokers who got sick or addicted to tobacco. The verdict ruled the corporations prioritized profits over consumer health, who are currently awaiting a payout.

Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., one of the corporations approached regarding tobacco-reduction efforts, stated in an email that he could not comment while mediation is underway.

Rob Cunningham, a Canadian Cancer Society lawyer and senior policy analyst, said cigarette businesses may only exit bankruptcy protection in a settlement agreed to by all provinces, providing governments power to demand tough penalties.

“This is a unique, one-time, historic opportunity to reduce tobacco use, to control the tobacco industry, and we need to take advantage of it,” Cunningham said in an interview. “Health-care costs drove provinces to sue.”

Tobacco usage is linked to 16 illnesses and cancers, including lung, throat, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers.

Despite not filing litigation, a consortium of legal firms representing six provinces—British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island—is representing the territories in discussions.

In 1998, governments in all 50 states reached a similar deal with cigarette corporations, but health organizations were excluded from the closed-door discussions, Cunningham said. An independent American foundation was formed to oversee the tobacco business, which had to release 40 million pages of previously secret records.

“Instead of getting them to foot the bill on traditional programs,” said Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada executive director Cynthia Callard, cigarette corporations should be forced to close.

New Zealand banned tobacco sales to anybody born after Jan. 1, 2009, for life.

“We need this industry disabled,” Callard stated.

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