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N.L. sues tobacco companies for costs of smoke-related illness

Health Canada, which spent years and millions of dollars studying new warning labels for tobacco products, decided to do nothing.

SHAUN BEST / REUTERS/SHAUN BEST / REUTERS

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has filed a lawsuit against tobacco manufacturers to recover the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses, 10 years after it introduced legislation allowing it to sue tobacco companies.

"By proclaiming this piece of legislation we want to expose tobacco companies for misrepresenting the harm associated with their products," Justice Minister Felix Collins said in a news release.

The Tobacco Health Care Costs Recovery Act was passed by the House of Assembly in 2001 but only proclaimed on Tuesday.

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"We now have entrenched in our provincial statutes the mechanisms by which we can attempt to recover the health-related costs associated with tobacco use," Mr. Collins said.

The province says its 51-page statement of claim names more than a dozen manufacturers including industry giants Rothmans Inc. and Philip Morris USA Inc.

The province has been monitoring other jurisdictions with similar legislation and now feels it has everything necessary to build a strong case, said Mr. Collins.

The court action seeks recovery of costs associated with health-care services provided to individuals who have suffered from tobacco-related diseases, as well as future health-related costs to the province.

"Tobacco use costs the province several hundred million dollars annually in both direct health care costs and indirect costs including productivity lost due to illness and premature death," Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said in the release.

He said tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death and is attributable to lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease.

The government has hired a law firm in St. John's to handle the case. The Newfoundland team will get legal advice from a law firm that specializes in tobacco litigation based in Independence, Mo.

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