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Quebec sues tobacco companies for health costs

The government of Quebec on Friday announced that it is filing a lawsuit [motion, PDF, in French; press release, in French] against tobacco companies to recover the costs of treating citizens with tobacco-related illnesses. The government indicated that the lawsuit will be based on the companies' failure to report health risks [AFP report] to citizens. Under Canada's national healthcare, each province bears the cost of their citizens' medical bills. Quebec will file suit under the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act (CRA) [text], which makes tobacco manufacturers liable to the provinces for health care costs. Quebec will be the fifth Canadian province to sue under the Act, with similar lawsuits already filed in Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Other provinces have indicated that they may file lawsuits as well.

The Supreme Court of Canada allowed [JURIST report] lawsuits under the CRA to move forward in July 2011 when it ruled [materials] that individual provinces are able to sue tobacco companies. In 2001 British Columbia attempted to recover from 14 tobacco companies funds that the government had spent paying for medical care of those afflicted with tobacco-related illnesses. They based their claim on the CRA. In that case, the appealing tobacco industries alleged that Canada is also a manufacturer and supplier of cigarettes and that this preempts their liability. The court refuted this understanding finding that Canada is not a manufacturer under the Act. The Court allowed British Columbia's claim against several tobacco companies to proceed, but did not rule on the merits of the claim. This decision opened the door for suits from all the provinces worth potentially billions of dollars of damages against the tobacco industry.

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