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Province to continue tobacco legal action


VICTORIA - The B.C. government will change the province's tobacco legislation and continue its lawsuit against tobacco companies to recover health-care costs associated with smoking, Health Minister Mike Farnworth and Attorney General Andrew Petter said today.

"Holding the tobacco industry accountable for the harm its products cause is part of British Columbia's strategy to protect children from tobacco," Farnworth said. "As long as British Columbians keep dying from tobacco-related diseases and kids keep getting addicted to cigarettes, we will continue to seek compensation and changes in the way the industry does business."

Farnworth said that rather than appeal a court decision last month striking down the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, the government will introduce new legislation.

"The court ruling upheld most of the essential principles underlying the act," said Petter. "The court confirmed that the province has the right to sue for the recovery of health-care costs. We will now make legislative changes to deal with the one aspect the court found to be beyond the jurisdiction of the province."

The B.C. government launched its lawsuit against the tobacco industry in November 1998. The province argued that tobacco companies should be held accountable for the effects of their products because they have known for years that cigarettes can cause death and disease and are addictive. The province also claimed the companies failed to warn consumers of the dangers of smoking, targeted children in their advertising and marketing practices, and suppressed research into the risks of smoking.

Last October, tobacco companies challenged the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act. In his decision Feb. 21, Justice Ronald Holmes of the Supreme Court of B.C. upheld four principles of the Province's legislation:

The province's right of action to recover costs from tobacco companies. The province's right to pursue claims on an aggregate basis. The validity of placing the onus of proof on the tobacco industry on issues where the industry has superior knowledge. The privacy of individual medical records.

However, the court struck down the act because of extraterritorial provisions that the judge ruled were beyond the province's jurisdiction. These provisions would have made the parent tobacco companies legally responsible for the actions of Canadian subsidiaries operating in British Columbia.

"B.C. was the first jurisdiction in Canada to launch a lawsuit against tobacco companies," Farnworth said. "From the beginning we knew that the industry would fight to hold on to its practices and profits and that we would have to work our way past their roadblocks to achieve our goals for health."


For media information, contact: Communications Branch Ministry of Health (250) 952-1887