Big Tobacco Loses Appeal in $13 Billion Quebec Cases

(Bloomberg) -- The Canadian units of British American Tobacco Plc, Philip Morris International Inc. and Japan Tobacco Inc. were ordered to pay damages of about C$17 billion ($12.8 billion) after losing an appeal of class-action lawsuits filed by smokers in the Canadian province of Quebec.

The Quebec Court of Appeal upheld a lower court decision with minor changes, according to a ruling released Friday. The lawsuits were in favor of smokers seeking damages for addiction and smoking-related diseases, who argued they were never warned of the risks.

“The risks associated with smoking have been known in Canada for decades. Consumers were aware and that’s why we think we shouldn’t be held responsible” said Eric Gagnon, the head of corporate and regulatory affairs for Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd., BAT’s Canadian unit. ‘‘Today’s judgement is disappointing.”

Gagnon told reporters outside the court in Montreal that an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was an option. Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc., the Canadian unit of Philip Morris, said it plans to appeal to Canada’s highest court, according to a statement. The other defendant in the cases is JTI-MacDonald Corp.

The case stems from lawsuits originally filed in 1998 and involved the first damages against the industry in Canada. The decision comes four years after the ruling against the companies by a trial court in Quebec. The original damages were set at about C$15.5 billion, though that has risen to about C$17 billion with interest charges, according to estimates from the Canadian Cancer Society.

“This is a complete and resounding defeat for the tobacco industry,” said Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the Ottawa-based cancer group. The industry “has engaged in decades of wrongful behavior resulting in vast suffering, disease and death.”

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