The Quebec government is launching a $60-billion lawsuit against tobacco companies, joining other provinces in the legal battle to recover the health care costs of diseases related to smoking.
The lawsuit against the industry includes costs dating back to when Quebec adopted its health insurance plan in 1970, and extends to about 2030, the period during which the province estimates it will still be paying for care related to tobacco use.
The Quebec government says tobacco companies failed to inform consumers properly about the risks of smoking while promoting their products through innovative marketing techniques.
"Tobacco companies knew the damage smoking could cause, did not say anything and people continued to smoke in good faith believing that there would not be any problems. That's the basis of the lawsuit," Health and Social Services Minister Yves Bolduc explained.
The province is backing its case with more than 1,300 documents from tobacco companies, several thousand studies, and analysis produced by experts around the world. Mr. Bolduc said the government has the evidence to prove that smokers were misled about the harmful effects smoking would have on their health and that tobacco companies conspired to hide the truth.
Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said the companies have enough money to pay what Quebec is demanding.
"A quick look at the year 2011 indicates that multinational [tobacco] companies ... made profits totalling about $20-billion for this single year alone. They also made enormous profits over the past 60 years," Mr. Fournier said.
He noted that in the United States, tobacco companies reached out-of-court settlements worth about $250-billion. Quebec is the sixth Canadian province to launch a lawsuit. The remaining provinces – Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and PEI – say they intend to proceed with litigation also.
In a news release, Imperial Tobacco Canada called the lawsuit "hypocrisy" and a waste of taxpayers' money. The company contends that the products sold to consumers are legal, heavily regulated and taxed. It argued that governments knew of the health risks related to tobacco use.
"This lawsuit is a cash grab by a provincial government looking to score political points while conveniently forgetting that it has been a senior partner in the tobacco industry for decades," said Donald McCarty, vice-president of law for Imperial.