Tobacco industry again in the firing line

This week the government of Newfoundland & Labrador filed a lawsuit against more than a dozen tobacco manufacturers to recover the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. The Canadian province estimates that it spends several hundred million dollars annually in both direct health care costs and indirect costs including productivity lost due to illness and premature death, according to the health minister.

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.

According to the CBC, almost every province in Canada has introduced or passed legislation to recover health-care costs from tobacco companies. In the mid-1990s, similar lawsuits were undertaken in the US, which led to the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement involving 50 states and a payment by tobacco companies of $246 billion US over 25 years to cover the health-care costs resulting from use of their products.

The news comes the same week that a hard-hitting editorial in The Lancet admonishes tobacco companies for boasting about increased sales in 2010 and “extending the epidemic of death.”

The editorial says that big tobacco manufacturers report increased sales in major markets across Africa, the Middle East, eastern Europe, and Asia Pacific. The Lancet calls out the companies as “morally repugnant” and says that since their business is “selling, addicting, and killing, surely the most cruel and corrupt business model human beings could have invented,” it is not surprising that tobacco companies see many opportunities to develop business in “vulnerable low-income and middle-income countries.”

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