Montreal - In Montreal, Canada, lawsuit has begun against three large tobacco companies, in which almost two million smokers and ex-smokers are claiming damages equivalent to around 21 billion euros. Lawyer Bruce Johnston accused the companies of “mendacity” at the start of the trial yesterday in the Québec Supreme Court by deliberately selling “harmful products” and downplaying the risks associated with tobacco.
The two class actions , which were brought together in the largest civil lawsuit in Canadian history to date, are directed against Canada's three largest tobacco producers: Imperial Tobacco, JTI-Macdonald and Rothmans Benson & Hedges.
90,000 smokers with cancer came up for the first class action and former smokers from the province of Québec united, each claiming the equivalent of 80,000 euros in damages. In the second lawsuit, 1.8 million smokers are each demanding around 8,000 euros in damages. Because of litigation, the beginning of the trial had dragged on for 13 years.
In his opening speech, plaintiff's attorney Johnston presented the marketing strategies questioned the tobacco companies about which "false information" was spread. Furthermore, the parts of the tobacco which have low nicotine content are not used in the cigarettes.
Johnston asked the judges to investigate whether the corporations had "entered into conspiracy" to keep tobacco users from being informed of the dangers. He accused the corporations of hiring "a stable of scientists" to challenge studies on the negative effects of tobacco use. Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, André Lespérance, accused the corporations of withholding or even destroying scientific knowledge about the health dangers of tobacco consumption.
The defense was unimpressed by the allegations. The prosecution has no evidence, said Deborah Glendinning, an attorney for Imperial Tobacco. "Smoking is voluntary thing that people do for variety of reasons, and they have to take responsibility for it themselves." Chris Koddermann of Rothmans Benson & Hedges said the effects of smoking "have been known for decades".
Cécilia Létourneau, one of the plaintiffs and spokeswoman for the victims of tobacco consumption, did not accept such statements. "When I started smoking, TV advertising was still big part," she said on the sidelines of the process. "And there you saw radiant women smoking - it meant to be modern, to be confident woman."