No Point To Tobacco Suit

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 18, 2009 Ed Cartoon

The tobacco industry is yet again under pressure from the Ontario government.

A bill recently put forward in parliament could allow the province to sue tobacco companies for billions of dollars in medical costs going back as far as the 1960s.

While there is no question that smoking has resulted in a heavy burden on the country’s medical system, the responsibility should not rest solely on the shoulders of the tobacco industry.

After all, any North American not living under a rock should know smoking is dangerous for their health. Individuals who choose to smoke are making a conscious decision to risk their health, at least when it comes to the first few cigarettes.

Perhaps people were slightly less informed in the 60s, but the government knew cigarettes were not exactly healthy. A lawsuit based on what happened half a century ago is out of date.

Additionally, the timing of this bill seems curiously in line with the current recession and the tobacco industry is an easy scapegoat for a government looking for a few extra bucks.

Of course, the reality of the legal system is that any case against the tobacco industry would be expensive and lengthy. With some of the most expensive lawyers in the country, tobacco companies would not likely give up without a fight. During these tough economic times citizens may prefer their tax dollars not be spent on lawyers and court cases.

However, perhaps the tobacco companies deserve some form of punishment. After all, they did take advantage of ignorant consumers by promoting cigarettes to children and through falsely advertising products as “light” cigarettes and “slims.”

Yet this kind of reasoning could start a slippery slope: if the government is allowed to sue tobacco companies for their medical bills, then what is to stop them from creating lawsuits against fast food chains for causing high cholesterol, as some individuals have recently tried to do?

The truth is, when it comes to fighting against the tobacco industry, both the Ontario and federal government have really done all they can. From gory pictures on cigarette packaging to awareness campaigns and school programming, there is no lack of information about the harmful effects of smoking. Short of actually banning cigarettes, there is little left to be done.

This bill is more of a symbolic gesture against tobacco companies, rather than a concrete step in helping a burdened medical system.

If the Ontario government truly disapproves of cigarettes, it should have pursued these legal options against companies decades ago. The reality is that the province benefits greatly from the taxes on cigarette sales and bills like this merely act as a hypocritical way to condemn cigarette companies while simultaneously capitalizing on their profits.

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette